Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Holistic Healing

As a survivor of sexual violence, I spend a lot of time thinking about and working toward healing. Usually when I speak about being healed, I'm looking at it from an emotional/mental/spiritual viewpoint. Because most of my hurts are spiritual and emotional, I tend to focus on those, but I’ve noticed lately that my body also responds to these emotional hurts. Case in point: on the anniversary of the first time my ex-partner hit me, I developed a terrible headache centered on the left side of my head. It corresponded to the same area where he punched me last year. This psychosomatic pain was no less real than the pain I experienced when he first hit me. I had headaches for a week both times. This made me think about my body and how physical health is related to emotional health.

Most of the folks who know me know that I’ve had a long-term struggle with obesity. In 2007, I began working hard to lose weight and become healthy. Over the course of two years, I lost 130 pounds. It wasn’t easy, but it was definitely worthwhile. Through the process, I learned that I was worth fighting for, and that I could accomplish great things if I tried. This summer, I began struggling again with weight gain. The stress of obtaining an order of protection against my abuser took its toll and I know that I used food to help me cope. I gained 20 pounds from the end of May when I filed for the order. Again, here is this apparent correlation between the physical body and the emotions. So my question today is this: can the mind truly be healed if the body is struggling? Can the body be healthy if the spirit is suffering?

I will be searching for the answer. In the meanwhile, it is obvious to me that I must seek healing for both parts of myself as an integrated whole; body and mind must be healed in order for me to be the healthy, complete person I want to be.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Voices of Hope

I'm happy to announce that I had another appearance on Voices of Hope on BlogTalkRadio. If you'd like to listen in, the podcast is availble here:

Hope for, the parent non-profit of Voices of Hope is doing great work for survivors - check out their website at Today, we talked about how to deal with the holidays as a survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault, and how these problems are compounded by PTSD. Listen in for some tips on how to keep yourself emotionally and physically safe as you prepare for your holiday.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Speaking Out

Part of healing after sexual assault is being able to talk about what happened without shame. For this reason, I'm taking this blog public tonight. I have never publicized it to anyone outside certain circles where I knew it would be accepted and appreciated. There is acceptance among other survivors and I felt safe sharing it with people I knew would understand. The time has come to step outside that magic circle. Acceptance be damned; I am who I am - if you can't handle that, then do I really need you in my life?

I will be appearing on Hope for Healing's radio program Voices of Hope again, on December 7th, at noon. A link will be posted for anyone who wants to listen to the archive once it's up. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Well, this matters. And I won't be silent anymore.


It is 3:23 am on Thanksgiving morning and I am blessed with the luxury of having a four day weekend. Waking at two in the morning is usually a tragedy; I lie in bed in the dark and think with dread of the alarm ringing in only four more hours -- three more hours -- two more hours -- oh, it can't be six already... But with the unfettered days before me, waking from night-terrors at two am provides more than escape from the shades that pursue me in Dream. It becomes a time for reflection, for music, for sitting in bed and writing, writing, for God's sake; I feel uplifted, my soul is riding the currents of the wind that shrieks outside the window and for this exhilerating night, I am free. There is no one to answer to, no one here but me, and there are no expectations to meet -- not even my own.

I write, and tears threaten. I am not grieving over any given circumstance, the tears are for joy. It has been so long since I had the urge to express deep, inner thoughts with written words that I had almost forgotten how it feels to have this release. Pent-up pressures fade, my thoughts cease their rumbling and flow like rain. The wounds of the past lose their sting. Tomorrow may be different, but tonight, I am made new; born again in all innocence, unscarred.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Support Pandora's Project

I first found Welcome to Barbados and it's companion message board, Pandora's Aquarium, back in 2000. I'd had a difficult pregnancy, my marriage was failing, and I had just lost my mother-in-law to aggressive pancreatic cancer. My life was falling apart and I was helpless to deal with anything because my mind was consumed by PTSD related to the rape I experienced as a teenager. My husband and I purchased our first home computer in June of that year, and as my condition went from bad to worse, I began searching on the Internet for help in dealing with the aftermath of rape. Pandora's Aquarium became my lifeline. Those days were dark, but in Pandy's (as it is affectionately called by members), I found kindred spirits, luminaries whose courage and support changed my life forever.

Now, Pandora's Aquarium is a part of Pandora's Project. The mission is to fund low or no cost healing events and support for survivors of sexual assault. I am not exaggerating when I say that these services can and do save lives. You can help with this excellent work by visiting the link below and voting for Pandora's Project daily. You can also text to vote (instructions are available if you follow the link below).

It isn't much to ask for 10 seconds of your day. You can make a huge difference with your support of this work. Pandora's Aquarium changed - even saved - my life. It can do the same for countless others if you're willing to help. Go vote today.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Blog Talk Radio: Voices of Hope

Today, I did a segment on Blog Talk Radio for Hope for's Voices of Hope program. The archive is available -- go check it out!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Steps on the Journey: The meaning and purpose of forgiving, and where I am now

Forgiving is a concept that should be at the forefront of the Christian mind. God commands us to forgive the people who do us wrong. Because he offers us forgiveness, he wants us to extend that kind of grace - in other words, in order to be forgiven, we must first forgive. It's no secret that God doesn't appreciate a closed, hardened heart. He wants his followers to be open, to be loving, and to be filled with grace. Among other things, Christ admonished people to turn the other cheek when someone struck them and he also said that if someone forced you to walk one mile carrying his goods, you should -- without hesitation or complaint -- walk a second mile, too. How do we reconcile this teaching with our own hurts and wounds crying out for healing? What do we do with the anger, with the fear, with the sorrow that we feel because of an injury we suffered at someone else's hands?

I don't know about you, but it seems unjust to me to be commanded to forgive and to let things go. I mean, really! I want to stand up and shout to God -- "Hey, wait a minute! Don't you remember what I suffered? Don't you remember how this person hurt me? Don't you remember the awful things he said to me, the way he tore me down? Don't you remember his fists? Well, if you don't, I do! I won't quickly forget the way it felt when he punched me in the head, the way that fire blossomed inside my skull -- white-yellow-orange-red -- an explosion that I STILL SEE when I close my eyes at night. I won't forget the week afterwards when I was dizzy and half-sick with pain and fear that it would happen again. And I won't forget the way he treated me, the way he screamed at me, the way he threatened to hurt other people so I would submit to him. So don't ask me to forgive! I won't and I can't, and it isn't fair of you to expect it!"

But then I think about the cross. I know...I don't want to hear it. Well, neither do I when I'm angry, but hey, as a Christian, I have to remember what Jesus did for me. And there's that nagging line that he said while being crucified -- "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."  Oh... I hear that line and the flames of my anger are dampened. No, nothing that my abuser did to me is lessened or changed by it, but I am changed. No Christian can be unchanged by those words! It turns us on our heads, makes us do a 180, and reminds us that we have a standard of behavior to strive for, though we know we'll never achieve it.

So -- what do we do with forgiveness? What is it, exactly? Does it really mean just forgetting about what happened and treating the people who hurt us as if they are still our friends? Does it mean accepting pain over and over, without trying to defend or protect ourselves? Does it really mean turning the other cheek and walking that extra mile?

Forgiveness is a difficult concept for most people. It belongs to a family of words that are generally considered synonymous with one another -- forgiveness, pardon, excuse, and condone are often used interchangeably, but there are differences in their individual definitions. Let's examine each word and its meaning more closely.

Excuse: To make allowance for; to overlook.
Condone: To overlook or disregard an offense without protest or censure; to grant tacit approval by turning the other way.
Pardon: To release from penalty; to allow an offense to pass without punishment.
Forgive: To renounce anger or resentment against another person.

Okay - it's obvious that each of these terms is similar, but it is also obvious that there are some differences. We aren't asked to make excuses for people who hurt us. We are not asked to overlook or make allowances for the harm they caused. We are certainly not asked to condone evil or hurtful behavior - Christ didn't; in the temple when the moneychangers were causing harm to the people, Christ didn't step in and say "I forgive you, go in peace." He came in like a whirlwind and forced them out, thereby ending their ability to cause harm - you wouldn't catch Jesus condoning evil in anyone, or making excuses for it and allowing it to continue. Pardoning and forgiving are the terms we are left with. Let's think about them for a moment.

Forgiving is renouncing anger or resentment against another person, and pardoning is deciding that there need be no repayment for the wrongs. In my case, I found that I needed to examine my feelings about my abuser and acknowledge the hurts he had caused. The wounds caused by months of being told that I had no rights, of being used for gratification with no thought for my own needs or wants, the way he used me financially, of being told that my emotions and feelings didn't matter had to be looked at and dealt with. The physical and sexual assaults also had to be acknowledged and dealt with. The threats to others that he used to manipulate me into doing what he wanted and staying with him had to be brought out into the light. And that meant examining my actions also, looking at my own behaviors and trying to figure out where I went wrong, where I allowed him to have access to my inner life, and where I enabled him to cause me more harm by forgiving over and over without trying to protect and defend myself. I didn't just turn the other cheek, I effectively opened my arms and said, "here I am, abuse me." I didn't just walk the two miles with this man; I walked two hundred. And I had so much unresolved anger toward myself that my anger toward him was dwarfed by it -- like a campfire swallowed by a conflagration.

I was appalled and overwhelmed by my rage. Not the rage I felt toward him, which I believe was a normal human reaction. But the rage I felt toward myself frightened me. I didn't know what to do with it, until I remembered that God also commanded us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Not more than we love ourselves, and certainly not less, but as much as we love ourselves. The inverse of that implies that we actually love ourselves.

Love myself! What an idea. I did not deserve to be loved. After all, I let this abusive person come into my life, allowed him access to my innermost chamber of self, loved him openly and completely, and then stayed when he began to hurt me. I stayed when he told me he didn't love me. I stayed when he screamed at me that I had ruined his life. I stayed when he forced me to have sex by threatening to harm himself and others if I refused. I stayed when he accused me of infidelity and beat me. I stayed -- how could I possibly love myself after that?

I didn't know what to do with the rage and the self blame. Sometimes, I still don't. I prayed about it, but honestly, it was even hard to pray. I hated myself so much that I had a hard time coming to God. I felt unclean. Not just because of the things my abuser did to me, though certainly I felt stained by his actions, but because I had made such horrible choices and because I was so angry. I felt unworthy of God's love. But God spoke to me in a lot of ways, even though I couldn't hear him in prayer. He spoke through friends, through nature, through reading. His voice and presence were with me. And he told me that his love is offered by his grace, not by anything I do to deserve it. Therefore, nothing I do can separate me from his love; since I didn't earn it, I cannot unearn it. So I accepted his love, but I still could not love myself. God kept on talking, though. He always does. One morning, I remembered Peter and his vision of the animals being lowered in a sheet, and being told to take and eat what he wanted. Peter protested that as a good Jew, he would eat nothing unclean, and that's when God asked him, "Who are you to call unclean what I have made clean?"

So who am I? Here I am, calling myself damaged goods, hating myself for my anger and for my helplessness, and God gently reminded me that he has already cleansed and repaired me. Sure, I made bad choices. But God didn't hate me for it, and he didn't find me less clean for having stayed in a relationship that was unhealthy. He renewed me, and in his eyes, there were no stains. So, I began to release the anger I felt toward myself. I know I'm not perfect, so why did I expect myself to be? I formally granted myself pardon for having failed in my judgment, for having been involved with him in the first place, and for having stayed. That last part was the hardest. I still choke on it, sometimes, but I'm working through it.

With self-pardon came the realization that I was now healthy enough to begin dealing with the idea of forgiving my abuser. I had already seen through Christ's example at the temple that I could not condone his evil. I could not turn a blind eye to the fact that he hurt others before he hurt me, and that he would go on to hurt others after me. He used the fact that he was a pastor to get close to me in the first place; I worried that he would do that again. I don't even want to think about the people he might have hurt this way in the past. So I could not be a part of enabling his future abuses, and I could not condone his past abuse. What I could do was release the anger I felt toward him for using me, for taking my love and giving nothing but pain in return.

There is no magic button that you press in order to forgive someone. It is not something you feel, but something you do. Like love, forgiveness is a verb (or should be!). When I began working to forgive my abuser, I sometimes repeated the words "I forgive you" twenty or thirty times a day. Every time I thought of him with anger, I would say his name aloud and say, "I forgive you." I found myself repeating it over and over, especially when I would pass him on the street or when he would call me, as he often did during that first month after I left him. I began to realize that it wasn't healthy for me to have contact with him and that his reasons for wanting to talk to me were also unhealthy, and so I blocked him from calling me any further. It was hard to do that because I wasn't sure that it followed with the idea of the second mile, but after thinking how far I had walked with him already, I decided that it was in both our best interests to cut off contact. After all, Christ said walk the second mile, not the thousandth. And he said turn the other cheek, but he did not say, "offer yourself as a sacrifice."

I worked on forgiveness during those months and made it an active part of my day. Though my abuser began stalking me, I still worked on forgiveness. There was a time of deep confusion as I tried to reconcile the ideas of forgiving and pardoning with that of self-protection. It was difficult to make the decision to seek an order of protection, but I did it for two reasons; one, I knew I had a responsibility to myself and my children to make sure we were safe; two, I knew that I had a greater responsibility to make sure my abuser couldn't easily abuse again, and the PO was the first step in that process. I reread the story of Christ and the moneychangers and remembered that it was not okay to enable someone to continue to cause harm.

This morning, I was on Facebook before I came in to work and found photos that a friend of mine had posted. One of the pictures was of my abuser. Six months ago, if I had run across his picture, I would have been triggered - I'd have had an episode of PTSD and would have been miserable. And I'd have been angry, I admit it. This morning, I looked at the photo that had popped up in my stream and I felt nothing. Not anger, not rage, not hatred. Not even fear. I felt nothing. I moved on and went about my day. That's what forgiveness is -- you don't have to revisit the relationship or let the person who hurt you back in your life. You are simply renouncing your anger and resentment, you are refusing to carry that burden or feel it's effects. You are freeing yourself from the prison of rage and tortured remembrance. If you act from that point, you know for sure you aren't acting for the sake of revenge, you are only doing what you have to do. Your motives are right and pure. That's where I am now, and I feel pretty good about that.

So the purpose of forgiving is clear; it is something we do to free ourselves from anger. It is incredibly healing to release the rage and resentment and move forward without it. And you've seen where I am in my journey - I've forgiven my abuser, though I will never condone what he did, and I will do my best to make sure no one else is hurt by him. I have also mostly forgiven myself, a much harder task; when I feel my self-resentment and hatred building, I work at releasing it. Forgiveness doesn't just happen on it's own - it's a choice we make. Forgiveness is something we should offer in an emulation of God's grace. The person we forgive doesn't have to deserve it -- after all, do any of us really deserve God's love or grace?

Friday, August 13, 2010


Once trust is destroyed, it is impossible not to question motives.

This week was to be the second hearing for my order of protection. Those of you who read this blog know that a month ago, I was victorious in court and the first order of protection was granted. But the abuser appealed two weeks later, and I was facing a de novo appeal hearing, one that would assume a clean slate and in which I would have to prove my case all over again. 

Imagine my surprise when my attorney called me Thursday morning, less than twenty-four hours before the hearing, to tell me that the appeal had been dropped. My abuser had decided not to go forward with the appeal; he and his attorney legally and completely ended all proceedings. After I heard the news, I could hardly believe it. I just sat in my chair and I cried. Over. Just like that. His dropping the appeal is like an admission of guilt. And he cannot appeal again; the order stays in effect for the next year.

I want to believe that upon thinking things through, his sense of responsibility has opened his eyes to the wrongs that he did to me. I want to believe that he will truly seek healing and forgiveness; that he will enter treatment for his anger issues and that he will never harm anyone else again. I want to believe it with all my heart. It is what I've prayed for, what I've hoped for.

But I don't believe it.

Instead, I find myself as hyper-alert as ever, waiting for the next shoe to drop. Waiting to hear what he'll do next, waiting to wake in the middle of the night to find him standing in my bedroom, watching me. Waiting for more vandalism or destruction of my property. Waiting...

This was another victory. I hope he has truly changed direction. I loved him once, you know...and even though he destroyed that love, I never wanted any harm to come to him. I still don't. I just need to feel safe. And now, I guess I'm waiting for that, too.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bridges Burned

Being a single parent is hard. Okay – maybe that’s the understatement of the year. And is hard exactly the right word? No… Maybe horrific is better. Scarring. Damaging. Heartbreaking. Painful.

Over the course of the last two weeks, both of my daughters have come to me in tears about the state of our home. I’m not talking about the physical condition of our apartment. I’m talking about the brokenness that exists because of my divorce last year. Our home is broken. Our family; broken. Our hearts; broken.

I don’t believe that being divorced condemns you to a life of adultery. I don’t believe that God is that unforgiving. He knows we make mistakes; he knows that not every marriage is God-sanctioned and that sometimes all we feel we can do is get out. He knows these things. But the pain that comes with divorce is so pervasive – it saturates every segment of your life. Special occasions become times of mourning. Holidays are for grieving rather than celebrating. Birthdays, anniversaries…dates that once brought pleasurable anticipation now bring anguish. Divorce is like a death - it leaves a hole in your heart where the other person used to live, no matter why you left the relationship.

Because of the divorce, I have a new life now. My kids go to a new school and they are trying to make new friends. I am also trying to make new friends. I recognize that it is easier for me than for my kids; I’m an adult, not a lonely girl trying to navigate the complicated world of Middle School. I am blessed by having a good job with good co-workers. I recognize that, too. Most of the time I’m on an even keel and I feel pretty good about my new life, even though last year was hell. After my marriage failed I entered into a relationship with a man who turned out to be an abuser; his fists actually caused me less damage than his hateful, hurtful words and the emotional warfare he waged on me. I know that I am blessed to have escaped that relationship when I did. I understand that God has been with me through this process. I know that he has supported me and loved me through it all.

The pain my daughters suffer breaks my heart. Maybe this is how God feels about my suffering. I am powerless to change things. If I could go back into my marriage, I would. If I could turn back time, I would. Even though my marriage was unhappy in many ways, I would stay and spare them this pain, knowing what I know now. Even though I felt unloved, it would be worth it to know that my children had the stability they need. I wonder if God looks at the mistakes we make and says, “I can’t change this for you, but I wish I could. I wish I could roll back time and let you do this over – and I could; I have that power. But I won’t, because I gifted you with free-will. I wanted you to be able to choose, and though I knew you would suffer, I also knew that you could only truly live your life for me if you were allowed to make those choices.”

Oh, but it hurts, knowing that I can’t fix things. I can’t repair the damage. I can’t rebuild the bridges that were burned. I have tried, but I can’t. And even if I could, maybe I shouldn't. After all, my reasons for divorcing remain -- my ex-husband is the same man he was, and I am the same woman. He is still an unbeliever and I am still a person of faith. He still doesn't love me, regardless of how I feel about him. He still wants the things he wants, and I still want what I want. Maybe it would be a mistake to revisit the past...maybe it is better to adopt God's view and say, "Even though I could, I won't."

For now, all I can do is hold my daughters as they cry, tell them that I love them, and assure them that their father loves them, too. I can tell them that we are still a family; we’re just a different shape than we used to be. I hope this helps them cope. I don’t know if it does. And I pray for our brokenness to be healed. God has the power to accomplish that, and I know that in time, he will.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


The Lord is close to the broken hearted. He rescues those who are crushed in Spirit. -Psalm 34:18

A little over a year ago, when I was still blogging on Myspace, I wrote an entry that I entitled "Broken Glass." During that time, I felt battered to pieces by my impending divorce, a love that I felt for someone else who was inaccessible, and the pain for having failed in my marriage. I was on my way to work that morning in April of 2009, when I had an image come into my mind of a huge heap of broken glass. It was crushed to tiny pieces, but there was beauty in that brokenness; the glass sparkled and cast rainbows of light all around. Then a rough pair of hands appeared and the glass was being reformed. In my head, I heard a voice say, "Behold, I make all things new."

Glass is brittle, it breaks easily. But even from the pieces, something wonderful can be salvaged. This gave me the courage to go on. Whenever I felt crushed, I would imagine the hands of the Maker, taking the splintered pieces and reshaping them into something beautiful and useful. And of course, I knew that the process would be hard, slow, and painful. Here I am, over a year later, and I find myself broken anew. Is there still comfort in that image of the Maker's hands remaking me? Yes. But I know how glass is shaped -- it is a process of intense heat, melting, and remoulding.

Yesterday, I received notice that my abuser has appealed the Order of Protection. According to my attorney, this means a de novo hearing; one in which the slate is wiped clean and we proceed as if no other hearing had taken place. That means another couple of hours on the witness stand, being grilled and verbally battered by his attorney. After the last hearing, I said that this process felt like another rape. And now I have to go back and submit to that again.

I know that I have to do this. I know all the various reasons why it's important and I know that it isn't just about me. My abuser happens to also be a pastor in the United Methodist Church, and it was through that role that he became a part of my life, and was able to get close to me and do me so much harm. I know that I have a responsibility to the others whose lives he will touch and destroy. I don't want anyone else to have to suffer what I've suffered. I know all these things. But I confess that at this moment, I am broken, and I don't know if I have the strength to be remade. I don't know if I have the courage to go back through the fire.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Power and Control

Have you ever just sat down and thought about why someone would choose to abuse another person? I’ve wondered about it for a while now. I have trouble fathoming why anyone would want to cause another person physical or emotional harm, especially when they profess to love that person. I’ve heard the desire to abuse referred to as a sickness, and I sometimes wonder if that’s correct. It would seem to make sense in a way, wouldn’t it? This compulsion to harm might be something that the abuser can’t control.

But wait a minute. Does that really make sense? Think about it. Abusers don’t harm everyone they meet. They usually only harm the people closest to them; their girlfriends or boyfriends, their children, their wives or husbands. If the desire to abuse is a sickness, then wouldn’t it follow that it would be uncontrollable, that the compulsion to abuse would be the same across the board? The abuser would walk down the hall at work the same way he walks down the hall at home; punching walls, screaming, and finally kicking the office manager before he enters his office and subjects his boss to a pointed, biting tirade including all the mistakes she’s made in the last year. I think we need to let go of the idea that people who abuse do it because they’re sick or because they can't control themselves. Holding onto the image of the out-of-control abuser only absolves him or her of taking personal responsibility for bad behavior and gives a free pass to abuse again and again.

Abuse is all about control. An abuser can blow through the house like a hurricane, slamming everything in his path, but let the neighbor knock on the door and he's all smiles, totally in control -- because the truth is, he's in control the entire time. Abuse is about the abuser’s need to feel bigger, stronger, smarter, better than his victim. Imagine the following scenario. A woman is getting ready for a test the next morning. Her boyfriend asks her to come over but she tells him she has to study. He insists that she come because he doesn’t want to spend the evening alone. She gives in because she knows if she doesn’t she won’t hear the end of it for weeks. But she also brings along her book because it is important to her that she pass her test. She sits and studies while he sits and drinks. He is getting more enraged as she tries to concentrate on the coursework. By 11 pm, when she finally sets aside the book, he is fuming. Throughout the night, he’s done a bit of everything to get her attention, from shouting, to stripping, to accusing her of not caring about him anymore, but she has done her best to remain focused on her work and ignore his ranting. She is tired and has to be up early, but he insists that she watch porn with him and then have sex before she can go to bed. Does this sound ridiculous to you? Well, that’s because it is ridiculous. It’s also abuse, and it was planned. The point is not to get her attention, though that’s a nice byproduct of the childish behavior. The point is that she will not be allowed to prepare for her test; her failure the following morning will be extremely gratifying to this little man, who can’t bear to think that she might have a life of her own, intelligence of her own, and prospects of her own. But the story doesn’t end there – there’s more to it than that, because abusers are rarely satisfied, even when they get their own way.

The woman says she isn’t interested in being intimate. She’s tired and needs to sleep – her test site is an hour away and she has to be up by 6 the next morning. He doesn’t care and insists that she comply with his wishes. If she doesn’t put out, he says he’ll drive out and find someone who will. Well, he’s drunk, and of course that means driving drunk; she points this out but he insists that he doesn’t care. If he hurts someone else it’ll be her fault. And if he gets picked up for a DUI then that’s her fault too. She’s heard this before and has given in before; she remembers the revulsion and self-hatred that come afterward and isn’t eager to go through that again, though she knows she can’t let him drive drunk. But this time, instead of begging him to change his mind, saying, “please, not like this,” something snaps. She tells him she’ll call the police and report him if he walks out the door. He can sleep it off in the drunk-tank.

Suddenly he is raging, screaming at her, calling her a whore and telling her she ruined his life, but she doesn’t care. She gets up, picks up her purse and keys and says, “I’m through. I’m done. This is over and I won’t be coming back.” And on the way out the door she tells him a few home truths about his behavior and what he can do with it. Before he can get to her, she’s out the door and gone. And he doesn’t follow, because he’s already naked – he stripped about an hour ago while he was still trying to get her to drop the studying and have sex with him. She goes home and goes to bed, but has only been asleep for an hour when he starts calling. At first she ignores the phone, but it continues to ring. She can’t turn it off because her children are with their father – her ex-husband – and one of them has a medical condition; she needs to be available by phone. Finally, after an hour of listening to the phone ring, she answers it. He says he hates her. He says she’s an evil bitch. He says she’ll come crawling back the way she always does but that he isn’t going to be there. He’s going to find someone else. She says she doesn’t care, she isn’t going to hang around and take his abuse anymore, and she hangs up. Two hours later, she’s just gotten back to sleep when he calls again. This time he’s choking and gagging, says he’s terribly sick and thinks he’s dying. She holds firm with her anger, but after talking to him for a few moments, she decides she should go check on him. He did drink a lot and even though she doesn’t want to be with him anymore, she doesn’t want him to die of alcohol poisoning either. Before they get off the phone, he stops talking and she wonders if he’s passed out as she puts on her jeans and a coat and heads for the door.

At his house, she finds him in the bathroom. He’s throwing up. She waits for him to finish and then sits down on the sofa. He lies down with his head in her lap and goes to sleep. In an hour she has to leave for her test; she’s gotten about two hours of sleep total – but that’s nothing new. It has been three months since he allowed her to sleep for more than five hours a night. She doesn’t go to sleep and she doesn’t touch him. She just sits there, trapped. At six, she gets up, heads home, and takes a shower. She’s on the road in an hour and sitting for the exam. On her way home, he calls her to tell her he feels terrible; he is extremely contrite and blames his behavior on the alcohol and his “loneliness”; he says she knows how much he loves her and enjoys their evenings together. She isn’t buying it anymore, but doesn’t argue. She is just so tired that at this point, it doesn’t matter. He begs her to “come home”, and she does, mostly because the weeks of emotional abuse have worn her down so far that she just can't fight him anymore. That afternoon, she receives word that she passed her test, in spite of the late night and lack of studying. When she tells him the news, he stares at her for a moment and says, “They probably made a mistake grading it or you got really lucky. There’s no way you’re that smart.”

Control. Power over the other person. The need to feel bigger, smarter, better than the victim. That’s what abuse is about. And if you’re wondering if something like that could ever happen in real life, rest assured, it could. It did; it happened to me.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Little Victories

"God is in the midst of her; he will not allow her to be moved." 
~ Psalm 46 (NKJV)

Tuesday, July 13th, was the date of my hearing. I had been working toward and preparing for that day since May 28th, the day I filed for my order of protection from my abuser. I had been re-reading my journal - though my memory of what he had done to me didn't really need refreshing. I searched through months of phone records and painstakingly marked each call that occurred after the day I'd left him, when I’d asked him not to be in contact with me again. I spoke with co-workers until I found one who'd seen and recognized his car in the parking lot at work on several different occasions - two of those times, he had actually seen my abuser driving the car and was willing to testify to that in court. I wracked my brain to think of anyone I knew who might have seen me with bruises and cuts on my face and then remembered that my ex-husband had commented on the injuries when I'd picked up my daughters, less than 20 hours after the last incident had occurred. He agreed to testify also. I spent time on the phone with my Legal Aid attorney discussing what had happened and I sent her a copy of the incident log I had kept after the second time I saw him near where I worked. A week after my abuser was served, he and his lawyer offered the compromise of a "mutual restraining order", which I declined. Not only are such orders not found on any law books, but they are also difficult to enforce, since they assume a level playing field with abuse and harm on both sides. A friend who used to be a police officer warned me against agreeing, saying that the police wouldn't know who to believe if I called and reported a violation, unless they arrived on the scene and found me bleeding. I had already made up my mind not to accept their compromise; I did not do anything to harm my abuser and I was not going to say I had. My abuser had hired a private investigator who was calling friends and acquaintances from my hometown, trying to dig up things they could use against me. I felt violated.

In the run-up to the hearing, I admit that I didn't sleep well. I wasn't able to eat much, either, and as a result I felt tired and sick all the time. The night of July 12th was especially difficult, as I only slept for about three hours, and then spent the rest of the night wondering what in the world his attorney was going to try to do, what they could possibly use against me, and what lies my abuser might tell. I already knew my abuser to be unscrupulous and cruel; it seemed as if his attorney might be the same way. When I declined their offer of a mutual restraining order, my abuser’s attorney told my lawyer that he would “tear me apart on the witness stand”. Having already been torn apart by my abuser, I could only imagine how difficult it would be to face what his attorney would say to and about me.

Throughout the time between filing for the protective order and the day of the hearing, I often prayed. Sometimes, words wouldn't come, and I just sent my fears and hurts to God rather than sending supplications. I didn't know what to ask for, anyway. During my long, sleepless night on the 12th, I prayed that God's will would be done the next day, and that no matter what the outcome, I hoped that his Spirit and presence would be with me. It was all I felt I could ask for.

The morning of the 13th arrived and I was exhausted. I thank God for the support of my ex-husband, and my friends and co-workers who sat with me in the courtroom and offered their protection and their love. At different times during the day, they held my hand or put themselves between me and my abuser so he couldn’t watch me. Seeing him again was indescribably awful. His attorney pushed him to sit right next to me, but my friends would not allow it; instead, he sat nearby, behind me. After she realized what had happened, my attorney came over and said it would be okay if I moved, so we changed to the other side of the courtroom. There were so many cases being heard that day that we ended up having to return in the afternoon; even though I was scheduled to be heard at 9 am, it was 2 pm before we were sworn in and I had to take the witness stand.

If I had to describe the process of being grilled by a hostile man while the person who had hit and sexually assaulted me watched, I’d say it was like being raped all over again. He made terrible accusations – said I had been drunk and had hit my abuser, that I was the one who had committed assault. He said that I was a liar and untrustworthy. He tried to make the judge believe that I am mentally unstable and have a terrible temper -- to try to prove this, he brought out a two-inch thick sheaf of papers that were print-outs of my Facebook entries going all the way back to November 2009. There was no facet of my life that they left unexamined. He said that I was only doing this to hurt my abuser because I was angry that he had left me -- totally untrue, as I was the one who ended the relationship. I answered all his questions truthfully, even the ones that made me sick, the ones that meant admitting that I had done things I wasn’t proud of. But I had sworn to tell the truth, and I told the truth. I was on the stand for an hour, and during that time, I had to read aloud letters that I had written that were glowing character references for the man who had beaten and sexually assaulted me. The words tasted as bitter as ashes and they sickened me; my body shook and my voice trembled. Finally I was allowed to stop, and my witnesses were called. They told the truth also, and I was proud of the way they answered affirmatively without hesitating when the judge asked if they thought I was honest and trustworthy, especially my ex-husband. After they finished, it was my abuser’s turn to be questioned.

The sound of his voice cut me to pieces. I put my head down and tried to cover my ears. I couldn’t bear to look at him and it was easy to close my eyes, but it was impossible to shut out his words and the things he said and the lies he told. When my attorney cross examined him, he began to stumble, and that is when his lies started to catch up with him. Among other things, his denial of having called me after January 2nd was easily disproved by a quick glance through my telephone records. His insistence that he had only visited my workplace because of the Christian bookstore located there was shot down by his own witness, who happily admitted that they often went to the bookstore together; when asked which bookstore, she told the court they visited Books-a-Million and that he always bought Christian devotionals there. In the end, the judge granted my order. I won.

Maybe I should have cheered, but all I could do was sit there and cry. I can’t describe the relief I felt, but I also felt so broken. Smiles and celebrations came later, but at that moment when the judge said I had proved my character and honesty and my abuser had not, all I could do was put my face in my hands and let the tears roll. I don’t know how my abuser reacted, and truthfully, I don’t care. In the grand scheme of things, it just doesn’t matter. Right now, several days later, I am certain he is raging, thinking of me and what he can do to get revenge. I know him very well and I know the way he thinks. He doesn’t just let go of things. I understand that the order of protection is just a piece of paper – it might make it easier for the police to understand the situation if they are ever called to respond, but it doesn’t really protect me. In the end, I am the only one who can really physically protect me, no matter where I am or who I’m with.

I still don’t know what’s going to happen. I suppose he can appeal the decision, which will mean another day of hell in the same room with the man who sexually and physically assaulted me. Or he might try another tactic to get even. He’s threatened that kind of thing before, too. Either way, I’ll just have to be as strong as I can and get through it the best way I can. Sometimes we lose - my experience with this man was one of those times. But sometimes we win - and even when the victories are small, they are meaningful. Sure, it would have been better if I had reported his abuse at the time. It would have been smarter, and he would have faced criminal prosecution. I made a choice not to report, and I regret that choice more than I can say. Another loss for me, another victory for him. Most of our relationship was that way - and he seemed to feel most victorious when he was able to cause me pain.

On Tuesday, July 13, I experienced a little victory. God was with me, he did not allow me to be moved.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Courage Under Fire

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. ~ Philipians 4:13

Tomorrow is the hearing date for my Order of Protection from my abuser. I fully expect that the day will hold horrors. Not only will I have to face this man -- wait, MAN isn't the right word; MEN do not abuse. Real MEN have no need to build themselves up through tearing others apart. Not only will I have to face my abuser, but I will be forced to relive moments of my life that cause me great pain. There can be no justice in this unless he is exposed for what he is.

I am working to cultivate the attitude of Paul, who welcomed suffering if it advanced the cause of Christ. I know that God wants me to be strong enough to expose this person's real nature, so that he may not easily harm others. And I know that God will give me strength.

The following psalm is one that always strengthens me -- I am glad to be able to take comfort in it again. Bolded comments are mine.

Psalm 121 (NKJV)

1 I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth. (The creator of the Universe will be with me)

3 He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep. (He will be watchful and will protect me)

5 The LORD is your keeper;
The LORD is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night. (I can trust his protection regardless of what happens)

7 The LORD shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.

8 The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore. (No matter what, God is my GOD, my strength, my joy)

And here is my favorite psalm, one I return to over and over. I will carry it in my heart tomorrow.

Psalm 46 (NKJV)

1 God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; (Fear is the opposite of love - I will love my enemies, not fear them -- Love conquers everything)

3 Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah

4 There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God,
The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.

5 God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;
God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. (God is in the midst of me and will not allow me to be moved, no matter what happens - Whether I win or lose, God will be there)

6 The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved;
He uttered His voice, the earth melted.

7 The LORD of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

8 Come, behold the works of the LORD,
Who has made desolations in the earth.

9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariot in the fire. (There is nothing and no one that God cannot control - he will defeat my enemy here or hereafter)

10 Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth! (God will be glorified through my actions)

11 The LORD of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

The Lord of Hosts is with me - the same God who brought the Hebrews out of Egypt is with me - the God of Abraham is with me - the Great I Am is with me - the Good Shepherd, the Alpha and Omega, He Who Is and Will Ever Be is with me.
I will not fear - I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Rejecting Fear

The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
~ Nelson Mandela

I am – quite understandably – afraid of my abuser. I have reason to be. After he hit me and threatened to kill me I suppose I’d be crazy not to fear. I’ve been told by multiple people that fear is a healthy reaction to the danger I’ve experienced. I understand this. I also understand that the extent of my numbness during his assaults was an indication of how terrible the emotional and psychological abuse he’d put me through actually was. Though I was afraid while he was screaming and throwing things, and though I felt fear while he was battering me and threatening me, and though I felt total revulsion during his sexual assaults, it was mild in comparison to the strength of the horror I feel when remembering those episodes. Escaping the situation and having distance from it has allowed for some healing, which has made me more able to understand my feelings and to truly experience the fear – fear for my physical and emotional safety, fear for my children, and fear for my life. Like anger, fear can be a powerful motivator. It can enable you to protect yourself. It certainly had that effect for me! But if we give fear free-reign over our lives, it becomes debilitating.

Let me describe the situation I’m currently in. Next Tuesday, I will have to sit in a courtroom and face my abuser. He and his lawyer will no doubt do everything they can to discredit me, to make me look like a liar, and to cause me pain. I dread this upcoming emotional abuse more than I can express. I am – admittedly – afraid of what’s going to happen. Yesterday, the dread was so strong that it was almost like a living creature inside my body. I felt as if there was something inside me, tearing at me, trying to break free. I was in a state of near-panic. I tried to pray but I couldn’t concentrate. I tried burying myself in other tasks but the fear kept bleeding through. Finally, last night at around 10, I received an email from my new love, in response to some comments expressing my anxiety that I had sent him earlier in the day. His first words were, “Breathe, Honey, it’ll be okay.” So I took a deep breath, and then another, and in slowing down to feel the air move into and out of my body, I was able to reconnect with my inmost calm. I was able to pray, and I was reminded of Revelation 1:17, which says in part, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.”

There is such power in those words. Think of it. “The First and the Last.” He was there in the beginning. He will be there in the end. Everything that happens in between can be endured so much more easily when remembering those two points. God was with me when I was formed – he has been with me all my life. Even during the abuse, he was there, offering his comfort, bringing into my life people who helped me to understand my danger and conquer my apathy so that I could escape. He will be with me the day I die, no matter what the circumstances, and he will welcome me home when it is time for that journey. And most importantly right now, he will be with me in the courtroom on Tuesday when I face my abuser.

Why should I continue to fear? I don’t have to fight this battle alone. God is with me – and he has sent me supporters, a lover, and friends to shore me up. Yes, I have reason to be afraid of the man who hurt me and threatened my life. A certain amount of alarm is healthy and normal. But I will not allow it to debilitate me, to paralyze me, to keep me from telling the truth. I will not allow fear to rule me, to tyrannize over me the way my abuser did. I will not be defeated; I will conquer my fear. No matter what the outcome on Tuesday, I will be the victor, for my battle is against fear, and I will have overcome it.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Forgiving vs. Enabling

"To forgive all is as inhuman as to forgive none." ~ Seneca

Forgiveness should always be a topic at the forefront of the Christian mind. I know that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, especially over the course of the last six months. I have wrestled with the concept of forgiveness the way Jacob wrestled with his Angel. The reason for this struggle is that I recently exited an abusive relationship. As a Christian, my first thoughts were about how I could forgive my abuser. I was angry over what he had done to me, as I imagine anyone would be. Worse than the anger was the hurt I felt -- I had given my love openly and freely; I had worked hard to treat him the way I myself wanted to be treated, but instead of responding in kind, he chose to tear me down both physically and emotionally. I felt so damaged by his abuses that I was uncertain whether I’d ever be able to trust myself enough to love anyone again. Forgiveness was something I felt I needed to offer, but I wondered if I would ever achieve it.

I spent a lot of time praying about it, as you might imagine. Each time I thought about my abuser, I’d repeat aloud or in my head (as appropriate), “I forgive you.” Sometimes, I did this dozens of times a day. What I wanted was to be able to stop thinking about my abuser, to stop feeling so hurt and so angry at him for what he had done. I wanted to move on and forget all about it; I wanted things to go back to the way they were before. But as time passed and my walk with God progressed, my anger diminished, which had the function of allowing me to see the situation more clearly. As the weeks went by, I began to see a flaw in my thinking. I had been counting on forgiveness as the means by which I would forget about the abuse and reclaim my life. I had intended never to address the abuses in any legal or even moral way; my intention had been to set aside what he had done and to pretend that nothing had ever happened. God had other plans.

As I prayed daily to forgive my abuser, God began quietly opening up channels of communication with other people. At first, I had been unable to really talk with anyone about what had happened; the pain and shame that I felt were too great. But God brought person after person into my life, and each of these people brought healing to me in one way or another. Some of them showed me by their actions that they loved me. Some of them were able to understand my heart without even knowing what had happened and they offered their support in subtle ways that reaffirmed my damaged sense of self-worth. Others offered their shoulders and listening ears with kindness and caring so strong it was palpable. As the story began to unfold to these treasured few, the Spirit went to work, showing me vital pieces of the puzzle that I had ignored or had been unable to see or understand. Yes, I had to forgive; it was required of me because God had forgiven me for my many sins and wrongs. I could not ask for forgiveness without first forgiving those who had wronged me. I accepted this and understood it. The harder part to learn was that forgiving does not always mean what we think it does.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines forgiving this way:
To give up resentment of or claim to requital for, or to cease to feel resentment against an offender.

I began examining my conscience to see if I had been able to achieve true forgiveness, and I found that my anger and my hurt were gone; my resentment had vanished. I wished my abuser well. I hoped that he got the treatment he needed and that he was able to build a life with someone else, and that he would never hurt anyone else. I was confident that I had forgiven. But as the Holy Spirit worked in my life, my conscience began to speak to me, nudging me toward deeper understanding.

Forgiveness is good. It is what Jesus would have done. But would Jesus have left the situation as it was? Would he have refused to speak out or tell the truth about someone, knowing that that person was capable of extreme violence and of harming others? Would he simply have forgiven and walked away, leaving others to suffer in the future? No, my conscience clearly told me that Jesus would not have done so. He would have found a way to heal the entire problem. That might have entailed the casting out of demons, or it might have consisted of curing a disease, or of driving money-changers out of the temple before they preyed upon the poor. I did not want to face the idea that through my forgiveness and lack of response, I might be enabling my abuser to go on and abuse again. After all, his ex-wives had experienced violence at his hands but had done nothing. He was in a position of power when he met me, and he had abused that also, crossing boundaries that should not have been crossed. If someone had reported his abuses in the past, he would not have been in a position of power when he and I met. And if I did not report his abuses, then he would continue in that position, able to easily harm others in the future.

The Free Online Dictionary defines enabling as: to supply with the means, knowledge, or opportunity…to give sanction to. My silence had become a means of enabling this man to hurt others, and to believe that he could do so with impunity. How could I live with that?

Still, I didn’t want to deal with it. I had forgiven. I wanted to forget. I wanted to let the past be past, and I wanted to believe that he had learned his lesson and would never abuse anyone again. Then he began turning up near where I live and work; a pattern of behavior that he had admitted repeating in the past when relationships and friendships were terminated. God was speaking through my friends, through strangers, and even through my abuser’s actions; He was showing me my responsibility.

It has been difficult to take action, and the situation is unresolved at this point. I don’t know what will happen. However, I do know that I have a responsibility not only to forgive, but also to protect others, to keep them from harm. I can still think of my abuser and wish him well. I regret that I am compelled to report his abuses – I did not want to do this. But God often calls on Christians to do things that we do not want to do, and it is the hardest tasks that are the most necessary. I have forgiven – but I will not enable. My silence will not be the vehicle by which another person is harmed. Jesus wouldn’t do that! He would tell the truth in love, no matter how hard it might be, and that’s what I am going to do.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Finding Healing

Recognizing and Naming Abuse

Those of you who read this blog know that I recently experienced an abusive relationship. During the time when I was involved with this man, I was so numbed by the emotional pain he inflicted that when the physical violence started, it was almost a relief. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like being hurt. It was a relief because I was finally able to say, “Yes, this relationship really is unhealthy, he really is an abuser.” This knowledge gave me the ability to take action for myself and to finally leave the relationship, though it took me over a month to break free. Recognizing abuse for what it is can be very empowering; it certainly was for me. Once I named his abuse – emotional, physical, and sexual – I was able to release myself from that cycle and begin healing.

It would have been very helpful for me to have a domestic violence checklist to consult during the earlier days of that relationship. I might have recognized warning signs and have gotten out much sooner. Instead, I ended up waiting until I had been threatened with a knife, coerced into sex by his threats of self-harm or harm to others (which is rape by definition), and punched in the head and mouth. Below I’ve added a common domestic violence check-list that I found very recently, with my responses filled in. (Turning Point Services, 2010). I hope that it helps someone else recognize abusive patterns before violence occurs.

• Do you have to get permission to socialize with your friends?
I did not have to get permission, but it was very clear that he did not want me to contact my friends or family. When I did speak to friends or family on the phone, he always asked me if we had talked about him and demanded to know what was said.
• Are you accused of flirting or cheating on him when you leave the house to do errands, etc.?
He often accused me of being too flirtatious with men, especially when men would compliment me or ask me out or for my phone number. He accused me of cheating on him when we had agreed to break up and see other people; though he had expressed that our relationship was over, when I went out on a date with someone else, he became furious and abusive.
• Does he blame you or others for the things that go wrong in his life? Does he refuse to accept responsibility for his own actions?
Yes – every time something went wrong, it was always someone else’s fault, usually mine.
• Does he have control over the money and monitor your spending?
He insisted that I give him money for groceries and other expenses, though I often paid for groceries and covered many of our expenses myself.
•Does he tell you no one else would ever want you?
Yes, he used to tell me no one else would ever accept me because of my children.
• Does he threaten to harm himself if you leave him?
Yes, he threatened to harm or kill himself and to burn down his home and to burn a church if I left.
• Does he go through your purse or open your mail?
No, not to my knowledge
• Does he use things against you that you've confided to him in the past?
He knew about my past hurts and used those against me; for example, he knew I had been sexually assaulted as a teen, and once forced me to look at rape-scenes as a way to hurt me.
• Does he express romantic or sexual interest in others in front of you?
Yes, he did this all the time.
• Are you nervous about being on the phone when he is around?
Yes, because he always seemed to be listening in.
• Is it okay to return home later than scheduled without being fearful?
I knew he’d be angry if I was late, especially if the kids were home.
• Does he withhold affection, give you the silent treatment when you want to talk or work things out, or refuse to answer the phone when you call?
He did all these things, all the time.
• Does he try to turn the children against you?
We did not have children together so this doesn’t apply.
• Do you feel manipulated by his kindness or gifts?
He rarely gifted me and was more unkind than kind, however, after the physical abuse occurred, he brought me flowers and an engagement ring, which I rejected, and I believed this to be an extremely manipulative act.
• Do you feel obligated to be sexual with your partner? Does he threaten or coerce you for sexual contact? Does he threaten to leave you or harm himself if you don’t have sex?
I was more than willing to be sexual with him until he began using pornography constantly in our relationship; after that, my interest level decreased. We had agreed to part ways on the night when he forced me into sex by threatening to drive drunk - thereby harming himself or others - if I didn’t comply. He used threats of leaving, threats of harming himself or others by his actions, and withholding affection if I didn’t watch pornography with him and have sex the way he wanted to. He became verbally abusive when I refused to consider having group sex or allowing others to watch us have sex via webcam.
• Are your activities and interests looked upon as unimportant and trivial?
Yes, often. He also interrupted me continually and told me in many ways that I had no rights in our relationship and that my emotions and needs were unimportant.
• Does he sabotage your schedule and outside commitments?
Yes – he often made me late for work and often called and kept me from sleeping at night.

Answering yes to any of these questions denotes a potential problem. I answered yes to almost every single one! During the early months of our relationship, these behaviors were scattered and sparse. But as time went on, more and more of the pattern became clear. Finally, the emotional and verbal abuse escalated to physical violence. Here are some markers for that type of behavior as well:

Domestic violence usually starts small and becomes more severe and frequent over time. Many times it progresses through the following stages, and I’ve noted my responses in italics:
1. Pre-battering violence
Hitting or breaking objects, threats of violence, verbal abuse. My abuser did these things – he threw glasses, plates, and books. He punched walls. He damaged some of my belongings. He shouted at me, cursed me, and called me names. He accused me of “chasing him” when he had, in fact, always been the one who pursued me (he admitted this several times when he was drunk). He accused me of ruining his life and of destroying his marriage, when he had communicated to me that his marriage was dysfunctional and he was seeking a divorce before our relationship began.
2. Beginning level violence
Pushing, restraining, blocking doorways, holding down, shaking. He engaged in these behaviors also, but most of them happened after the actual physical abuse – the night I left, he kept pushing me down onto his sofa and onto his bed, holding me down by sitting or lying on top of me. Before he hit me the first time, he did shove me and grab me by the shoulder, shaking me.
3. Moderate level violence
Slapping, punching, kicking, pulling hair, spanking. He punched me with his fists on two separate occasions, hitting me in the forehead, in the side of my head above my left ear, and in the mouth. He also threw things at me.
4. Severe level violence
Choking, beating with objects, use/threat of weapons, sexual abuse. He physically threatened me with a knife, threatened and tried to wreck his car with me in it, and forced unwanted kissing and touching (by definition, this is sexual assault) as well as coercing me to have sex by threatening to harm himself and others.

I was lucky to get away from my abuser. However, for a month after I had ended the relationship, he continued to call me, often just to “talk” as he said, or to ask for my advice about another relationship he had entered. During each call, I would request that he stop calling me, and he would promise that this would be the last call. Finally, after a month of this, I blocked him from being able to call me. Then, a month later, I moved to a different city because I did not feel safe and because our paths still often crossed. After a peaceful few weeks, I began seeing him near my new home and at my work place. He did not attempt to make verbal or physical contact, but my apprehensions grew as it became obvious that he was continuing to turn up nearby. Because of his patterns of behavior in the past – revisiting relationships, trying to coerce renewed involvement with an ex-wife over a year after their divorce – I called the police to ask for their advice. After hearing about his physical abuse and his threats with a deadly weapon, the officer I spoke to advised me to quickly apply for an order of protection, and told me that his current behavior – unwanted phone contact coupled with recurring proximity – constituted stalking.

I did apply for the order, but not right away. It took seeing him nearby several more times and him actually contacting my employer before I had the courage to apply for the protective order. That is currently in process. However, the process is hampered because I did not report his behavior to the police when he physically abused me. If I could go back and do one thing over, it would not be to keep him out of my life entirely (though that is certainly tempting). It would be reporting him immediately for what he did. At the time, I was so afraid that I felt paralyzed and unable to act. I was numb from all the pain he had put me through. And I admit that when he hit me the first time, I still cared about him, and cared about what happened to him. I did not want to see his life destroyed. Now, however, those feelings are gone. I understand that I have a responsibility to more than myself; there were other women who came before me, whom he hurt – he admitted this to me. There are other women who will come after me. If my willingness to tell the truth about his behavior saves even one person from harm, then it will have been worthwhile.

Bottom line – if you read these checklists and if you answered yes to some of these questions, take a long, honest look at your relationship. Believe me, you deserve to have healthy boundaries. You deserve to be treated with kindness, not with violence. No one should have to live in fear. Get help – talk to the police, a trusted friend, or a family member. You are worth saving.

Domestic Violence Checklist. Turning Point Services. Retrieved online from on 6-12-2010.

Monday, May 3, 2010

My Most Grievous Fault

"All blame is a waste of time. No matter how much fault you find with another, and regardless of how much you blame him, it will not change you." ~ Wayne Dyer

“I am responsible for my own damnation.” ~ Lord Soth (RA Salvatore)

I don’t have a lot of pet peeves, but I admit to a few. For example, I hate it when people cut me off on the Interstate. And I confess that I get ticked off when I’m trying to merge and other drivers won’t get the h*** over and let me in. It also rattles my cage that people who’ve had access to the same level of education I have (elementary, high school, some college) still don’t know the difference between their, there, and they’re – I expect to see that kind of thing in emails and texts, but come on, folks – in business writing? Get a dictionary! Another thing that pulls my chain is when people mistreat their pets. If you don’t want to feed a dog, don’t get a dog. If you don’t want to take him with you when you move, at least take him to the shelter where he might have half a chance of being adopted and will be fed until he’s put to sleep. Don’t abuse animals – they look to you for everything and they trust you utterly; even when you hurt them, they repay you with love. If you can’t respond in kind, don’t get a dog to start with. And don’t get me started on the other things – no means no, it is not a starting point for negotiations; take care of your own children – I could go on and on…

Okay…so maybe I have more pet peeves than I thought. But my all-time biggest peeve, the one that never fails to pop my cork, is shifting blame. Oh, how I hate the refusal to take responsibility for your own actions! People do it all the time. It was an ancient practice that we know as “Scape-Goating” –the Hebrews did it; the sins of the people were shifted onto a goat, and the goat was chased away, carrying the sins of the people with it. For example, people look at our lousy economy and blame Obama. But guess what? The economy was failing BEFORE Obama went into office. Not to say that I think Obama is the eighth wonder of the world; I don’t. But let’s not shift blame – our greedy free-market economy, predatory lending, and two or three decades of bad decisions is behind the recession we’re facing. Get a clue. And while you’re at it, let’s insist that our current government take responsibility for the decisions it does make – like healthcare reform, bail-outs, and the stimulus package.

And there’s the oil spill down in the gulf. Who could have foreseen an explosion on an oil rig that would cause such damage? How could BP have planned for such an event? Well, the practice is called contingency planning, or anticipating the worst-case-scenario. Get with the program, BP. Take responsibility for the ecological destruction your poor practices have caused. Don’t stand around, wringing your hands, and saying you don’t know what to do; it’s your responsibility now to figure out what to do, and then do it!

On a personal level, I recently had the misfortune to be in a relationship with an abuser. He stayed angry with me over the fact that I was in his life, and yet whenever I would leave, he’d call me and beg me to come back. Still, the relationship was “my fault” whenever it became problematic for him to be involved with me. My fault, somehow, even though when we parted ways I was never the one to call and ask to get back together. The emotional abuse was also somehow “my fault”; apparently I deserved to be told I had no rights, that I didn’t know how to parent my children, and that I was codependent and maybe even bi-polar. And the physical abuse was also “my fault”; somehow, I must have done something to deserve being threatened with a knife, being punched in the head until my vision blurred and I was concussed, and being hit in the face and having my lips split and bloodied. It is apparently “my fault” that I will carry around the emotional damage from his sexual assaults and abuse for the rest of my life; it has been months and I’m still afraid. I have nightmares that he’s found me; that he’s in my house, standing over me, holding that damned knife. I still go into melt-down mode when someone shouts. A few days ago I was in line at the store when the man in front of me raised his hand quickly to wave at someone – I ducked and covered my head with my arms, and spent the next few hours feeling like a fool. But somehow, his abuse was “my fault”; he assured me of this, that he would never have hurt me if I hadn’t hurt him first. How had I hurt him? Oh, I had dared to break off the relationship. Silly me; I should have known better!

Yes, I have responsibility here. I know and accept it. I made choices: I decided to trust him in the first place. I believed him when he told me he loved me. I enjoyed his company and loved it when he was supportive of me and interested in what I had to say. I let him into my life, because I believed he was the kind, caring man he pretended to be. To quote Metallica, “This thorn in my side is from the tree I planted.” (Hammet; 1996) I have no one to blame for the involvement and for the length of time it took me to get away – though I kept trying to leave him, every time I mentioned taking time away or breaking up, he would scream at me and start hitting the walls, threatening me, threatening to kill himself. Still, I could have called the police; I could have taken steps to stop him and to protect myself. I chose not to. And that’s my fault; my most grievous fault. And because of this relationship, other people were also hurt. Again, through my most grievous fault. What I'm trying to say here is I know and accept that I was wrong; I take responsibility for my choices. A huge part of this mess is of my own making.

But how, I wonder, was it my fault that he chose to abuse me? How was it my fault that he beat me? And afterward, when I fell in the hallway and couldn’t get up, how was I to blame? But he stood over me, screaming that he shouldn’t have to go to jail for me, and he wasn’t going to take me to the hospital or call an ambulance, because then he’d be reported. He shouldn’t have to suffer because of me, he said. Not fair. Not his fault. He shouldn't have to have his son know what he had done; it was too much to ask, and not fair. He shouldn't have his career damaged, his life in upheaval, because of me. If I hadn't tried to leave him, hadn't gone out with someone else after we had broken up, hadn't said something he misheard, then he wouldn't have hit me. And later on, when I finally did get away for good, he kept calling me and begging me to come back. What he did wasn’t his fault, he said, it was because of a chemical imbalance in his brain. How could I blame him for something he had no control over?

Well, here’s how, and forgive me for addressing this directly to my abuser:

You were diagnosed with bipolar disorder over ten years ago, and yet you chose not to stay on your medications. And though you knew you had problems with anger and though both I and your therapist had told you multiple times that you needed to be in treatment for your depression, you refused. You made choices; you planted this tree. Now that I’m out of your life, you continue to choose, and you’re choosing to harass me by coming to my work-place and turning up near my home. You are watering and feeding your tree. But when it comes harvest time, please be prepared for the thorns you’ll reap. And don’t blame me if you don’t like the view from jail. You are making these choices; you are leaving me with no choice.

Hammet, Kirk; James Hetfield, & Lars Ulrich. 1997. "Bleeding Me". Load. Elektra Records.