Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Telling My Story: “But he didn’t hit me.”

This is the third part of my story.
Part 1
Part 2

I was isolated, afraid, and all trust in my own instincts was being slowly stripped away. I was exhausted and living in survival mode.

The life of an abuse victim is exhausting. I was constantly on edge because I didn’t know who he would be or how he would react at any given moment. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde analogy is apt. Would he be loving and thoughtful or belittling and angry? I had to be ready to meet whichever persona he chose to show with the correct response lest I make things worse. (Note the language I used there: lest I make things worse. That is the dynamic of an abusive relationship: the victim is always at fault and the one responsible for setting things “right.”)

Just when I thought I had a handle on something, anything, and think, “Okay, I can do this,” he would throw me for another loop. I lived in a state of continual fear and uncertainty.

I later learned that I had been living in the cycle of violence. This describes the pattern of an abusive relationship: a phase of tension building, where the victim is walking on eggshells; followed by an explosion of violence; followed by a false honeymoon period, where the abuser is kind, loving, and seemingly repentant. The false honeymoon fades over time and builds into another phase of tension building. And the cycle repeats.

Imagine living that, day in, day out.

I was sleep-deprived because the middle of the night was his favorite time to make demands and pick fights.

I had to keep up a good face with the rest of the world. I was so confused about what was happening; how could I possibly explain it to anyone else? Would anyone understand? I feared others’ reactions. All I wanted was for one person to tell me I wasn’t crazy, it wasn’t my fault, and that I could get help.

All I wanted was to be met with safety and love, not judgment.

I never had a moments’ rest or peace. Even when we were physically apart, he was always there, through incessant calls and texts and the way he always occupied my brain. Everything was filtered through the lens of the relationship, of surviving.

This relationship consumed me.

Despite all of this, I doubted the relationship was abusive. Why? Because he never hit me.

I didn’t fully understand how abusive he was until I first sought help. I thought of abuse as only physical. In my mind, an abused woman was a battered woman. Abuse is so much more than hitting.

There are five kinds of abuse: physical, emotional, financial, sexual, and spiritual.

He may not have hit me, but he used physical intimidation and sleep deprivation to his great advantage.

He may not have hit me, but he isolated me and stripped away everything I held dear.

He may not have hit me, but he belittled me, tore me down, and subjected me to constant mind games.

He may not have hit me, but he raped and sexually assaulted me on a regular basis.

I lived this for nearly two years.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Telling My Story: Power, Control, and Crazy Making

The first part of my story is here.

A note on pronouns:  I’m using female pronouns when I speak of victims and male pronouns when I speak of abusers because this is true in the vast majority of reported abuse cases, but I want to note that the gender roles can be interchanged.

Abusers thrive on power and control, isolating their victims from any support network they may have. The fewer resources a victim has, the greater control the abuser can exert.

My three most precious relationships were with God, my parents, and my best friend. He quickly went to work separating me from all three. It took time. He was patient. Eventually, I was all his.

By the time I became miserable and frightened, I felt completely alone. I thought I had no one to talk to, no one who would help me. So I stayed, because I didn’t know what else to do. I thought I was trapped. I thought I had no choice.

I had also fallen prey to brainwashing and
traumatic bonding. Healthy relationships are formed on bonds of love, trust, and mutual care and respect. A traumatic bond occurs when one partner dominates and intermittently abuses the other. The victim is isolated, dependent, and worn down from navigating the abuser’s moods and simply trying to survive. With few to no outside resources, she turns to the person closest to her: the abuser. The abuser reinforces this bond during honeymoon periods, where he is kind and caring and makes her think maybe there is hope after all.

I was relieved to learn of this common dynamic because I did turn to my abuser for comfort and didn’t understand why. When I was frightened and miserable, he held me. When he asked why my heart was racing, I lied about anxiety over work or school. I craved protection and solace and sought it in his arms. I took this as further proof that there was something wrong with me, and I had plenty of that because my abuser particularly excelled at a technique known as “crazy making” (something else I was relieved to learn about later).

Crazy making is just what it sounds like: the abuser deliberately engages in behaviors that make you think you are the crazy one. He was good at it. He enjoyed manipulating and messing with me. Verbal Abuse Journals has many good examples. These particularly struck a chord with me:

Crazy makers give you plenty of reasons to be upset, stressed out and angry, but tell you that you imagine drama where there is none and have no excuse to feel angry.

Crazy makers flip their mood on a whim. One second they’re sweet and kind, the next second they’re in a boiling rage. They blame you for their ugliness and credit themselves for their good behavior.

Crazy makers will rape you and then pretend they didn’t. Because of your intimate sexual relationship, you question your perception and think that maybe you misinterpreted the event.

Crazy makers twist your words, dart from topic to topic during arguments, and use your confusion to wear you down during arguments.

The more off-balance I was, the greater his power and control over me. After attempting to reason and fight it for a while, I simply capitulated. It was exhausting and I needed every precious bit of energy that remained to simply survive.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Telling My Story: An Introduction

I need to tell my story. 

I don’t necessarily want to tell my story. It’s painful to relive. It’s been 10 years since I left, but I’m still processing, still healing, still learning what it means to be a survivor and how best to curate my story. I will be doing that for the rest of my life.

It’s important to define my purpose in writing this. It isn’t simply to share lurid details. There are plenty of those, and I may share a few, but not for the sake of shock. Despite recent increased discussion about domestic violence, the voice of the survivor seems silent. The predominant question remains: “Why does she stay?”

We need to reframe the conversation. Each abusive relationship is unique. Perhaps by sharing my experience, one less person will ask, “Why did she stay” and one more person will ask, “How can I help?”

This is how I got trapped, why I stayed, and how I left and began to heal.

This is what domestic violence looked like for me.

The Beginning

I met my abuser in July 2002. I was a temp. He came into the office where I was working. His friend was supposed to run the errand that day, but had flaked, leaving it to him. It seemed like fate at the time.

He was charming and interested in me. I was naïve, insecure, and depressed. He saw that and knew how to use it against me.

We saw a movie and went out for ice cream. He was a perfect gentleman. I was giddy.

I want to emphasize this: our relationship started like any other. Chance meeting, flirting, goofy grins, butterflies. As my counselor later told me, it’s not like he was wearing a shirt emblazoned with, “I am an abuser.” I just thought I had met a great guy. I didn’t know.

I had some misgivings early on, particularly when I found out he didn’t share my faith. I nearly called it off, but decided to give him a chance because I doubted myself and thought “he could still be a good guy.”

He kept up the “good guy” façade long enough to reel me in.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why I Stayed


It didn’t happen overnight. He was subtle and patient. 

By the time I realized what was happening, I felt trapped. 

I didn’t think I had a choice. 

I was scared to leave. 

I was embarrassed. 

I thought I was alone. 

I didn’t think it could happen to me. 

He never hit me so I didn’t think it was really abuse. 

I believed his lies. 

I thought it was my fault. 

I was ashamed. 

I thought I was ruined. 

I thought I should stay with him because I had sex with him. 


My fear of staying finally outweighed my fear of leaving.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Tell

I’m linking up with Five Minute Friday, now hosted by Kate Motaung, writing for five minutes with no overthinking or editing. This week’s prompt is Tell. 


I worry I tell too much. 

I know people respond to vulnerability. I know that when I share my struggles honestly, it gives others freedom, know they are not alone. Yet it is scary to be that open. What will others think of me? Are they judging me as harshly as I do? Will I look back in 5 or 10 years and wish I hadn’t written those words? 

And how do I tell my hardest story when I cannot read my own words without crying? It hurts to speak the truth, to tell of my pain and deliverance. 

How do I tell the truth while still honoring some sort of boundary for my family and me? Is it worth it? 

I know I respond well to honesty in others, and I long to be that sort of person myself. Yet I doubt the wisdom of being so open. 

Is it worth it? 

You tell me. 


Friday, May 2, 2014

What Happily Ever After Looks Like

Ten years ago, I left an abusive relationship. It was a life-changing year for other reasons as well, but that was the biggest turning point. 

I didn’t know what it would take to rebuild my life, or that it would take years of hard work to heal. I didn’t know what it would look like for the abuse to be a defining part of my story, but not a defining part of who I am. I didn’t know that I would eventually begin slowly, painstakingly rebuilding my identity in the image of the One who made me or how that both was and was not a simple task. 

What I did know was that I wanted to live happily ever after, and I figured that at some point, if I worked hard enough, if I got far enough away from him, I’d get there. And I did, only it looks nothing like I thought it would.

I wanted happily ever after to be, well, happy. Pain-free. I’d had enough pain, thank you. A lifetime’s worth in two years. 

I have my happily ever after, only if I’m not careful, I don’t see it, because instead of happy, it looks like plain old real life.  

Marriage. Child. Job. Mortgage. 

Broken radiators and leaking hot water heaters. 

New jobs, changing schedules, too much transition at once. 

Depression and joy and contentment. 

The exhaustion and exhilaration of parenting a little one. 

Dinnertime tantrums and a sweet little voice saying, “Mama, miss you!” 

Marital tiffs and makeups and always underneath it all being grateful for the steadfastness of my husband. 

Dressy date nights out and cozy evenings in. 

Family gatherings and finding time to see friends. 

A planner that is too full when I just want to take a nice, long nap, and the suspicion that I really never will get it all done. 

Realizing that even when real life feels like too much, it’s still real and safe and everything I wanted and never thought I would have.  

My happily ever after is not always happy and it’s not perfect, but it is exactly what I need.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Choose

I’m linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday, writing for five minutes with no extreme editing or overthinking. This week’s prompt is “Choose.”


Faith, for me, was a choice.

The night a pastor laid his hand on a Bible and said, “Either all of it’s true, or none of it is,” I chose.

I chose faith.

And maybe that seems simplistic, or naïve, or somehow not spiritual enough. But it’s true.

I needed something and here was hoe. I was tired of grappling with points of law I didn’t understand. I was exhausted with fighting Jesus’ insistent tugging.

So I chose.

When I hear people talk about being wildly in love with Jesus, I can’t always relate. I am grateful to Him, yes. But I don’t know that I can say I’ve had more than a few glimpses of that wildly-in-love feeling.

Perhaps that too is a choice, to keep getting to know Him that I might more fully love Him.


Five Minute Friday

Monday, February 10, 2014

Books Read in 2014: Not Marked

One of my goals this year is to make time for one of my favorite pastimes and read at least one book a month. My pre-child self scoffs at such a small number, but now? If I can read one book a month, I will feel victorious. Since one of my other goals is to write on a regular basis, I figured I’d combine the two and write about the books I read this year.

NotMarked by Mary DeMuth

Mary is a Christian author and speaker who shares about living an uncaged life. She has told the story of her sexual abuse before, but in Not Marked, she details her healing journey in a particularly open and vulnerable way. Her husband Patrick contributes his perspective to each chapter as well.

This book is close to my heart. I am a survivor of rape and sexual assault. I was blessed to find a good Christian counselor to help me work through the continuing aftermath, but this isn’t something you simply “get over.” Even after years of healing work, the effects are still with me and always will be. Good Christian resources for abuse survivors are few, so when I heard that Mary was crowd-funding this book, I contributed. The world needs this book, and I am so grateful for her bravery in writing it.

Reading Mary’s words made me feel validated. I breathed huge sighs of relief, realizing that I am not alone in my struggles. Simply knowing that someone else out there gets it, even someone I may never meet, is somehow comforting. She knows what it is to be angry with God, to feel inadequate and helpless, to fight to forgive. She has done and is still doing the hard work and is risking much to share her hard-won insights with others.

I particularly appreciate Mary and Patrick’s handling of how one spouse’s abusive past impacts the current relationship. They acknowledge the sometimes messy reality of being married to an abuse victim and discuss ways spouses can work together to bring healing to the individual and the couple. Patrick’s contributions helped me think about how my past abuse affects my husband, in a way I honestly never quite have before.

There is tremendous grace, freedom, and understanding in these pages. I highly recommend Not Marked for fellow survivors and those who love them.

Monday, February 3, 2014

2013 Highlights and a Word for 2014

I originally planned to post this last week, but then I got sidelined with occipital neuralgia and ended up accomplishing very little other than catching up on Grey’s Anatomy. (Am I supposed to care about the new interns/residents? Because I don’t. And I still miss Lexie and Mark!) It seems past time for a New Year’s-themed post, but I’m putting this up anyway.

I subscribe to MaryDeMuth’s Live Uncaged ezine (which I recommend). In her latest edition, she shared a list of things she did well in 2013 and encouraged her readers to do the same. Since I am by nature a perfectionist who excels in beating herself up, I thought this was a worthwhile endeavor.

In 2013, I: 

  • Actively took care of my health. When things didn’t feel right physically and emotionally, I contacted my doctor and received treatment for post-partum depression and hypothyroidism. I joined a gym, challenged myself to try new workouts (like Spin and BodyCombat classes), and learned to enjoy fitness. I spent more time experimenting in the kitchen, meal planning and trying new recipes. 
  • Pursued community. Life with a husband, toddler, full-time job, house, animals, etc., is busy, no question. After tending to the necessities, there is little time or energy left for anything else. I learned that it is worth every bit of the work it takes to build and maintain the relationships that nurture my soul. I am richly blessed not only with sweet friendships that span years, but new ones as well. When I felt alone as a Christian working mom, I connected with fellow mamas in the (in)courager community group for new working moms. After years of struggling to build relationships with others at our church, my husband and I stepped out of our comfort zones and joined a family dinner ministry. In the course of an evening, we went from being on the verge of leaving our church to looking forward to Sunday mornings. And I have to give a shout-out to my Mommy and Me friends! I had no idea when I went to that first M&M group that I would still be friends with these wonderful ladies, watching our kiddos grow together. Community is life-changing and I am grateful for mine. 
  •  Said yes to leading ministries. “Leader” is not a word I have ever applied to myself, but in 2013, God brought me some rather unexpected ministry opportunities. I co-led the New Working Moms group for the fall (in)couragers session. My co-leader and I started a blog for working moms. And at the end of the year, I spoke with our pastor’s wife about starting a ministry for working moms at our church (see above re: the benefits of being connected!). 
  •  Parented! This is perhaps my biggest accomplishment of last year and any other year, for that matter. I started 2013 with a 7-month-old and ended it with a 19-month-old. While I still wonder how on earth I am enough of a grown-up to raise a human being, I do think I grew into the role of mother a bit more last year. I still feel frazzled quite often, but I also don’t always feel like I’m living in survival mode either. Our daughter is healthy, happy, and mostly delightful. I call that a win.

I did write down goals for 2014. It didn’t take me long to realize that I need to drastically simplify the list. I am, however, keeping the word I chose for the year: seek.

It encompasses what I want to develop in my life: a renewed focus on God. I want to earnestly seek His perspective day by day. I want to model a life of relationship with God for our daughter. This is sadly foreign to me. Praying is often what I do after I freak out and make to-do lists. I turn to the Lord when I exhaust myself and my own options, instead of looking to Him first and remembering that He is my best hope and guidance. My hope and prayer is that seeking His will and living in relationship with Him will become more natural to me throughout the year.

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;  my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” – Psalm 63:1

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Your Story Needed [(in)Real Life Conference]

I have experienced online community like never before in the last year and a half.

After I had my daughter, I joined a Facebook group for my hospital’s Mommy and Me group. A few months after I went back to work, I joined an (in)courage community group for new working moms. Not long ago, a friend invited me to join yet another Facebook group for moms.

I have found wonderful, vibrant community in these groups. My online friendships have seen me through late-night and early-morning nursing sessions, my struggle to find peace as a working mom, and endless fears and insecurities. They’ve given me friendship, hope, and advice on everything from nurturing my marriage to finding a great pair of jeans.

Every so often, I’m able to join my local friends for playdates with our kiddos, but the majority of our interaction takes place online. I absolutely love my online friendships. They have enriched my life immeasurably. But nothing compares to seeing your friends in person. It’s harder to hide behind “I’m fine” when your friend is sitting across from you and can see the lie on your face.

I long for that human connection. As a dear friend says, I need people to be the physical hands and feet of Jesus

That’s where the (in)Real Life conference comes in.

(in)Real Life is an annual conference held by the ministry (in)courage. You don’t have to travel long distances or check bags or make hotel reservations. They bring all the content to you via webcast.

What about the face-to-face part of it? That’s where the local meetups come in. You can watch the webcast with other women in your area. From the (in)Real Lifewebsite:

“(in)RL is the combination of outstanding online content that encourages, moves and inspires women as they watch in the comfort of their own homes and local meet-ups where small becomes the new big and women connect, in person, beyond the comment box.”

Find out more information and register here. Everyone who registers this year will receive free access to the (in)Real Life videos from 2012 and 2013, and as an added bonus, anyone who registers on January 15 will be entered into a drawing for a free ticket to the AllumeConference!

For those who crave community. For those have a story the world needs to hear (that’s you!). For those who need a safe place to be vulnerable and un-fine.

I’m going to be brave and attend (in)Real Life for the first time this year. Join me?