Treading Water: A Story of Domestic Violence

When you see me, you don’t know my secret. I hide it well.

I share a story from shadows. My words must be spoken in whispers, in quiet places. For now. 

He threw something at my head. It hit the target. Once he broke a chair and then threatened me. There was the time he declared I had no reason to have dreams of my own, that they had no place in life. Once when I was sick on a Sunday, he said I’d go to hell if I missed church. He has cursed at me, called me names, and spoken to me in a demeaning, disparaging manner.

I have felt like an appendage and disregarded, instead of a partner, instead of appreciated and cared for. I am viewed as an object, a role, a trophy, and a puppet, not a person to be loved and known.

The official label is “domestic violence,” but it isn’t only physical violence. It also includes emotional, verbal, and spiritual abuse, and in many domestic abuse cases, also financial abuse. It can also include sexual abuse.

It signifies the degradation of a human life made in the image of God. It means control and abuse of power.

It translates into grief, pain, and a lowering of self-esteem in the victim. When the person who promised to love and cherish you abuses you, trust is broken. Walls of hopes, dreams, and trust crash around you in a cloudy pile of rubble and dust. Living in a verbal war zone, with unknown landmines, I do not know when an explosion will blast, what shells will fracture me, what bullet may wound me. I measure time by incidents, in increments of bad memories. This is, I know, no way to live.

I swallow a spoonful of daily pain—because I cannot simply or easily forget. I finally named it: a type of post-traumatic stress. Memory is with me, and in between moments of laughter and glimpses of beauty, an earthquake of wounds and pain rumbles within. 

It is a cycle, a pattern. This cycle includes his soft apologies with no metal, the passage of time with no change and repeated abuse. 

Until I began to wake up, and by grace, saw the cycle. This was a war waged against me, my soul, my body, my spirit.

And I fight. 

Abuse is an animal with an appetite and it will be fed.

I tried, through the years, speaking to different pastors and people within the church. A marriage retreat is not enough to fix abuse. A few meetings with a pastor are not enough to fix abuse. Telling the wife to submit will not fix the abuse, or that simply “it takes time.” Time escalates abuse. Every marriage has its own issues and challenges, but there is a difference between a difficult marriage and an abusive one.

People in church, in particular, often choose to look the other way, confused or unwilling to get involved. Some, though compassionate, simply are not equipped to know how to handle abuse properly. Sometimes even our friends choose to look the other way. Some may choose not to believe us. Yet others may choose to blame us.

If you wonder why it’s not so easy to talk about, this is why. In my experience, it has taken years for someone in the church who was not only willing to listen but to get involved. Those outside the church have done a better job of caring and serving than those inside the church walls.

I have tried to keep a family together, sought counseling for myself (he refused counseling) but I also have to fight for myself.

My counselor said women like me live in the unfortunate situation of not knowing when the abusers will ever change—if ever—and the reality is that if change does occur, it is very, very slow.

How much slower do I need to live, I wonder? How much time is left for me? Most of my life is now behind me. How can I live fully and authentically in the remaining years with the gifts God has given me? What will I do now? I live day to day. Next year, the next five years, is an unknown country.

I do know this: healing is an abundant path, even with the uncertainties in my future of living alone, finding a job, finding new normals, custody issues, family relationships, etc.

In the waking, I become more whole, and know who I am and whose I am and what I need to do.

A person can only tread water for so long.

***

 

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Call the domestic abuse hotline for help 1-800-799-7233 or visit www.thehotline.org.

If you know of someone in a domestic abuse situation here are a few tips shared by Anonymous:

1)    Believe her

2)    Ask her if she’s ok, make sure she is safe

3)    Don’t ask her why she stayed in the abusive situation. The answer is a complex one and she needs a listening ear, not more advice (unless she asks).

4)    Ask her if she wants to call or visit a women’s shelter and offer to go with her. Women’s shelters are more than places to stay: they have confidential legal advocates, free services, even childcare, career help, and other services.

5)    Call her and check on her regularly.

6)    Be her friend. Be that friend who she can call anytime she needs a place to go or a person to talk to.

7)    Have a code word she can use to call you in an emergency.

8)    Remember that she’s lonely. The person she married betrayed her trust by abuse. Her church may not believe her. Her friends may not believe her, or she may only have entrusted you. Protect that trust.

9)    Love her unconditionally. You’d want the same, wouldn’t you?

Anonymous

Anonymous

The writer of this piece could be any woman, anywhere. Her story is a common one, and her struggle is something we need to talk about more openly as the church and as a community of believers.
Anonymous

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