Friday, February 16, 2007

Survivor's Story

Posted by Hannah at 11:48 AM


When I read this story it clearly shows the doubt that goes on within the mind of an abused person. I say PERSON because I honestly believe that men can fall victim to this as well.

Early in our marriage my husband was physically violent with me. I told him I would leave if he ever laid his hands on me again. At that time I tried to contact my pastor; however he wasn’t available when I called. After I made the call I began to fear the implications of telling my secret. What would everyone think? Would they believe me? My husband is Mr. Wonderful, everyone likes him. Then the personal self doubt started. Am I making a bigger deal out of this than it really is? Do all husbands act this way? What I saw as a child was nothing like what I was experiencing. My Dad loved my mother: treating her with love, respect and kindness. I was completely unprepared for the abusive situation I was experiencing. The doubt lingered and festered.

Abusers tend to tell you that you are making a mountain out of molehill, and yet their reactions to things are off the charts. We are always asked to look at ourselves first, and I do believe that is a good thing! We should look towards ourselves first, but you still must address things that are clearly against the law of both the legal side and most importantly the Faith side!

This section clearly shows as well how people can hide behind the secrets of their life’s. I have read story after story of how abusive people can just RAGE in the car on the way to church, and within an instant be that wonderful person the fellowship really looks up to with respect soon as they get to church. The family may be reeling, but the abusive person acts as if nothing happened at all.

As time passed, the abuse transitioned to verbal and emotional. Name calling, threats of physical violence, breaking of personal property, verbal abuse of the children, neglect, spiritual and financial abuse were all methods that he used to perpetrate domestic violence. For years I lived in fear. My children were young and with the birth of each he got worse. The more perceived responsibility he had, the more abuse I incurred. It got to the point that my eldest started being a target for abuse. That was when I knew I had to make some changes in our lives.

I truly believe that the best place for children is within a home of two parents as God intended. You read a lot about the effects of separation or divorce has on children, and it is said that is one of the important factors as to the reasoning that you should not. I suppose a lot of people would say before this man started to target one of his children HOW do we know he was NOT a good father to them? I think children learn a lot about the world by using their role models in some ways don't you? I have to wonder why people seem to think this man would be a good father as the children watched him abuse their mother. Is that a good father? Is that the role model that God intended for this household? I can hear people saying maybe she pushed his buttons! I think to myself is his reaction to 'button pushing' one of a Godly man? Is his reaction what the bible asks of us in how to react? There is no excuse for behavior like that, and people need to stop making excuses and start dealing with that.

I began meeting with a friend from church and we discussed and prayed about the situation. We prayed for healing of my husband and we prayed for relief for me and my children. During that time I went to my church leadership and explained what was going on and that I needed help. The church leadership decided to involve him in a general bible study and never came to me and ask me how things were going, or if he was improving. They never confronted him or held him accountable for his behavior.

Some time later, I summoned the courage to leave. With the help of a neighbor who I had been confiding in, they kept my husband busy and I literally escaped from the house with my children. Shortly after I left, I contacted an elder from my church to inform him that I had gone. He and my pastor came to my new home and discussed what had been transpiring in our marital home. I poured my heart out to them again. I told them that someone was going to get hurt, that he was out of control, that I was terrified and I wanted out of the home and relationship. After I filed for divorce they came to me and said, “Don’t do this. Please go to counseling with him. You don’t have biblical grounds for a divorce.”

I wish I could say this church's response was unusual, but I can't say that. This is the how the term "The Holy Hush" started. From where I sit they had a couple of opportunities to step in, and help both these parties. I have to admit I do believe fear is in the foundation of why they didn't. What they did next was very normal, and before I did any research on this subject may have been what I would have suggested also. Marriage counseling! I truly never realized this issue was beyond the realm of marriage counseling. When I think about it now it’s almost like you have an alcoholic spouse, and to stop the problems of the marriage and the booze lets suggest marriage counseling. LOL No AA meetings though! Both parties within an abusive relationship need separate kinds of help, and once that has happened martial counseling could be the next. I think it depends on the whether or not both wish to step outside of their world of denial, and deal with the real issues first. If you can't see the root of rage within the abusive person, and the brokenness of the second within them as well - you are NOT going to be successful! You can not ignore the root of rage within one person, and they fear within the other and expect the issues to resolve themselves. You might have a band-aid for a while, but that ISN'T what we are after right??

So I rescinded the application for divorce and went to counseling. Counseling with the Christian counselor was grueling. I told her that I had read that in situations of abuse the individuals should be counseled separately. She disagreed. He denied the abuse and I was afraid to say anything. It was a worthless and agonizing exercise with him blaming me for everything wrong in his life. I sat there terrified to speak the truth of the abuse that had transpired. What I did learn from this counseling was that I was a complete doormat and I had allowed that to happen in the name of keeping peace. He said that I was not being a good wife because I didn’t submit to his authority. At one point during counseling the pressure was so great to reconcile that I verbalized consideration to moving back into the marital home. When a friend of mine begged me not to do it, I told him I wasn’t ready. The next night he came to my new home and proceeded to assault me, calling me all kinds of names, choking me, throwing me to the ground and beating my head on the floor. When he finally left, I called 911. He went straight to the home of someone on the governing body of the church. I was taken by ambulance to the hospital and church leadership finally convinced him to turn himself in to the police.

When she spoke of the fear of verbalizing her issues within the marriage - it shows you clearly WHY counseling needs to start out separately. His anger and abusive ways need to be addressed, and he needs to shown ways of dealing with them better. He needs to address the root inside of him that makes him feel he needs to control the environment around him, and not allow the love that everyone wants and need to flow. The woman needs to know what is it inside of her that made her think that being that doormat was the only healthy way of dealing with her marriage. Could it be self esteem, confidence? Could it be a warped set of values? Why does he feel the need to abuse? Those are the issues that need to be address first, before reconciliation of this family in any healthy form can begin. There are loads of people that will wish to speed this along, because they feel if you stay separated to long there would be no hope. I have to wonder were that faith they pronounce so loudly is when they say things like that! When you push for reconciliation to quickly, and return to the home life without dealing with the issues you are going to see things repeat. Chances are very good the grip of control will be so strong that the family will be to scared to ask for help again. His will towards them will be crushing, fear will return, and extra measures by him will be in place to make sure they DON'T open their mouths again! Remember before this happened you thought they were the perfect family? What makes you think that show won't have a repeat performance in new ways?

We both filed for divorce. Church leadership told me that if I continued to go through with the divorce they would dis-fellowship me from the church, because I did not have biblical grounds for divorce. Then my husband rescinded his filing. After the pressure of church discipline, I rescinded my divorce filings.

He plead guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence charges and court proceedings ensued. My husband didn’t come back to the church but he met with people individually to recruit people from church to testify for him in court. He told them I was crazy, belittling me and minimizing his own actions.

I tried to stay at the church for the sake of my children. I kept saying that he broke the covenant by virtue of his abuse, that husbands were suppose to love their wives like Christ loved the church. This fell upon deaf ears. The small group we belonged to decided not to have me involved. Few people spoke to me when I attended church, whether it was because they didn’t know what to believe or what to do, I don’t know, but I felt ostracized in the place I sought sanctuary. My place of sanctuary became a battle ground. My church repeatedly became a place of revictimization. Clearly, my church and the leadership did not understand the dynamics of domestic violence and how they contributed to its perpetuation.

Isn't that sad? I think silence happens also because we have seen similar situations happen to others in different scenarios. It doesn't have to be domestic violence. The uncomfortable silence towards people when things happen in their life’s, and people are NOT sure how to respond! Depending on the sins involved is almost pushed out of their sanctuary they were told would be there for them. With the focus on keeping the family intact at all costs you can imagine the hesitation of some to talk about this. "What did you do to make him so angry?" "Did you ignore her needs as a wife?" You just know the focus will be on "Why does he do that?" as they look towards the family for answers. I would assume if the family KNEW THAT they would be able to find solutions also! Why does he do that does need to be looked at, but not with an air of blame and shame. We are dealing with a person with an addiction for rage and angry. I mean again when you deal with a person that drinks is the first question you ask, "Why do you drink?" LOL Those questions must be answered of course, but is that the first course of action?

Its sad the amount of stories, emails, etc I read that mention having to leave their sanctuary. How they placed a burden upon the church that was too much to bare. They are hurting and lost, and not must leave with their tail between their legs. Some never return to church, while others attempt to find a new place of worship. They now have additional pain to work thru. It’s sad.

After her home and sanctuary were gone she ended with:

I came to the realization that “sanctuary” was not in the building but in my personal relationship with Christ. I came to understand that I was going to go through some time where all (and the best) that I could do was to rely on Christ. It became important for me to take time to heal and tell my story as part of that healing process. I hope that leadership in churches will be open-minded enough to realize they need knowledge regarding the issue of domestic violence. I would like to see church leadership accept that domestic violence is a real problem in faith communities and become responsive to the needs women involved. Women, by virtue of their gender, are not lesser vessels in the eyes of God, just different. Until society values women to the extent they do men, there will be little assistance afforded in these situations. Society has recognized substance abuse as a sickness. Domestic violence is a sickness also, it represents a character flaw. It is not just a person who has a temper. It represents their world view of the purpose and value of women.

Men in the eyes of Christ have a great responsibility to care for their wives. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Christ never abused or belittled people. Clearly, it is not what he intended for women. Educating church leaders with regard to the realities, prevalence and pathology of domestic violence will help women who are literally trapped in their domestic situation. God did not intend for me or any other women to live in the bondage that is the reality of domestic violence. He intended for women to live a life of freedom to help make the world a better place for all his creation, especially to let his creation know about Christ. By ignoring the reality of some women, churches are devaluing what Christ has made and thereby ignoring their call.

I realize this is a story of a women, but much of the same issues can effect men within our faith community also. The reaction to them is pretty much this same.

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Anonymous said...

My experience to a large degree mirrors this woman's experience in seeking first belief in what I was confiding about spiritual,mental and cruel, cruel emotional abuse,and occasional physical abuse of our oldest son, trying to obtain practical help, and guidance in what steps to take to deal with the ever increasing terrors my 4 children and I were facing. In my efforts to be the "good Christian wife" I was repeatedly sent back to renew my efforts to assuage the 'monster' my husband had become to us. Finally after 26 years - I kid you not - something within me snapped and I got enough nerve to phone, book, and see a Christian lawyer. Before that though, an elder in my church approached me several times after the service, saying, "There's still time to change your mind. You don't have to go through with this. It's all up to you..." And so guess who showed up to represent/support my husband the day we had to appear in court? You guessed it - the elder. And only 6 weeks after that, the same elder approached me another Sunday informing me that my husband was in counseling and was such a changed person it was just amazing and that any time I wanted to know how he was doing in counseling just to phone him up and he'd let me know! GAG. That was when I contacted a friend who's high up in the mental health counseling field. He gave me some wise advice which I followed through. This did not go over too well with the elder, who months later had me hauled in with a new pastor to defend myself against laying a "harrassment charge" against him! It was BS. I cooly reminded him of instances when he had approached me and inquired whether or not that might, just possibly might infringe on my rights... he just hung his head. I also told him that I would believe him and verbalization that everything was ok between us if he invited my children and me over to his home. He has not done so. I figured that would be the case. Nor do he or his wife ever talk to me any more. Their loss. I am thankful to say that others at my church are more understanding. It is the occasional guest speaker I still hear of miraculously restored marriages that were on the brink of divorce that make my blood almost congeal on the spot and my spirit sink, that why couldn't my marriage have been one of those revitalized marriages. It's been a long haul to work through the mental-emotional-spiritual muck but I'm getting to a much securer place in my faith as well as a deeper more fulfilling knowing of Jesus which I don't know if I would ever have grown to had I stayed in the abusive relationship with my husband. Some say that divorce is detrimental to the children and I don't doubt that for many, but in our case, at least our 3 younger children (* I became estranged from our oldest because the church recommended he be the one to be kicked out of the home first and this has been an extremely tender achilles heel for me because I miss this son so SO much...)are being preserved from the terrors that he and I suffered through time and time again. They are actually rejoicing and healing in such positive ways, the only regret is that I did not follow through in earlier separations that I attempted... So, I, too am a survivor, on my way to being more than a survivor. The powerful truth I'm discovering is that Jesus accepts me more than I've allowed myself to accept me. When you've lived for decades in perpetual crazy-making, it is a journey to work through that, but thank God, I have the most wonderful counselor who is helping me on this journey! I think that the Christian church needs to really make the time to address the issues of couples in crises, abuse within homes, separation and divorce, and all the ramifications of single parenting in compassionate and supportive ways. There is no reason with the amount of information and resources out there why the church is not as educated and even better equipped to deal with these tough real life issues because admit it or not they are affecting people within their churches. Time to stop revictimizing more women who are seeking to be faithful, respectful and honouring of their husbands, yet no matter what we do it's never good enough. We have the right not to be abused in any way. Our children have the right to see and hear us being treated as Christ treats his bride, the church.

Hannah on 12:25 PM said...

Thank you for sharing, and God be with you on your journey towards a healthier life!

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