A Survivor’s Story
As I share my story of resilience with you, I will include the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual aspects as it pertains to me. My hope in writing my story is that the victim of abuse will not feel alone in her journey and that she can know that she can reach up and successfully grasp onto hope and help for her present and future life.
The abuser and controller is my husband of 18 years and I, the victim. My husband would never call himself, “an abuser.” Whenever he was confronted with his abusive behaviour and words, he would excuse it off saying, “I’m not a wife beater.”
Looking back to my childhood, I would have to say that I grew up in a very stable and safe home. My three siblings and I were taken good care of physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I can truly say that all of my needs were taken care of. I also felt safe because my father was a police officer and he always looked out for my best interests.
My only taste of the “abusive” world was hearing horror stories from my mother. She grew up in an abusive home. She received physical, emotional and psychological abuse along with her ten siblings – at the hands of her father. She also witnessed wife abuse done to her own mother. My mother ran away from home when she was only 16 years old in order to escape the violence. I so appreciated my mother sharing stories about her childhood, but, unfortunately, the memories were bad ones. Whenever I heard them, I would shudder inside and feel relieved that my grandfather had died just before I was born.
I did not marry until I was 29 years old because I was looking for a “nice Christian man” who was dedicated in going to the mission field, like I was. At this point in my life, I had become a very industrious and independent woman and I knew what I wanted in life. On the other hand, I was also willing to make sacrifices because of my strong faith in God and because I believed in the reality of love.
I met my husband during my last year at Bible college. I believe that God brought us together. I was not initially attracted to him, but with his persistent and flamboyant personality I paused and took a second look.
Through our courtship my husband went to a lot of trouble to get my attention with notes, surprises and balloons. I was always caught off guard, blushed and was flattered. We even experienced one year in a long distance relationship where he continued on in school in one province and I continued working in my profession in another. He sent me a total of fourteen cassette tapes of his conversation to me over that period and I faithfully wrote back.
After a very romantic courtship of 18 months we married. Our wedding day was “the happiest day of our lives,” it seemed. We both had never smiled as much or for as lengthy a time as on our wedding day. Our facial muscles were actually sore the next day.
I know that when some women describe their abuse they will recount hitting and punching… For me, though, much of the abuse was actually neglect. Even on our honeymoon, I was told to “stop touching” him and he rolled over and went to sleep. I, on the other hand, could not sleep as a result and spent most of that night sitting on the couch, weeping. The neglect intensified over our years of marriage to the degree that he would not touch me (and he knew that my love language was touch) and he would not initiate sex. It would end up most times that I would bring the subject up (embarrassed, because it kept falling on my shoulders) and state how long it had been since we last had intimacy. He would act very innocent and casual each time and say, “Oh, I guess it has been awhile…” I will also add here, that over time, I realized that my husband had a sexual addiction. From what I have read about addictions and abuse, they often go hand-in-hand. This physical (touch) deprivation was very controlling and made me very needy and dependent on him as I was “starved for love.”
Another area of his neglect was to withhold compliments when they were certainly due or to seldom do so, based on whether he thought I had met his or his parents’ standards. I can recall making special effort in my appearance and dress on so many occasions only to have noted that over our 18 years of marriage he had only complimented me on how I looked four times. This realization, to me, is shocking. This withdrawal of compliments has had a profoundly negative effect on my self worth.
My self-esteem diminished rapidly over the years just by my husband’s communication with me. When I married I was almost 30 years old, an independent woman who had a voice. I had my own opinions and values…they were strong within me. Ultimately, though, I respected God and I was willing to be that cooperative, Christian wife who would trust her husband’s decisions. As time passed, I didn’t always see the wisdom in my husband’s thinking or decisions and I would speak up – especially when it came to the needs of our three children. In the beginning of our marriage my husband “tolerated” my vocal perspectives and he quietly listened. As our years of marriage advanced he continually negated, discounted, made fun of (with disrespectful facial expressions), belittled, mocked, mimicked, called out names and profanities, disregarded, humiliated, wrote me off and ridiculed me and what I did in front of the children (all because it happened to be different than what he did or said). Anything else I would have liked to say was shut down by him. He refused to listen and walked away. I then felt that I had no voice and that he had already decided what he would do for us as a family. Often, his ideas were in consultation with his side of the family and excluded me.
Unfortunately, my husband used spirituality to his advantage in decision making. He would bring in the spiritual perspective and would use Bible verses to stress that I should “submit“ to him. It would be useless for me to try and point out Scripture verses because he would end up discounting them or getting the focus off a verse in order to go to another part of the Bible which would support his own view. Even though my husband used the Bible and God as his ammunition against me, this did not destroy my faith in God or my trust in the infallible Word of God.
I felt beaten down with his neglect and the attacks on my self-worth, but there were also physical threats. Although my husband has never thrown me against a wall or struck me down there were incidences where he had angry outbursts and I felt threatened and afraid of him. He punched holes in doors, blocked doorways, grabbed, twisted and restrained my wrist, and worst of all – he got in a ready stance to punch my stomach when I was 8 months pregnant.
One of the most confusing parts of abuse is the mind games the abuser plays with his victim. I experienced this too. After my husband had conversations with me (in which he emotionally and verbally abused me or had threatened me physically) he would then completely act as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Life went on just as usual. I would be bleeding inside emotionally or feel nervous and jumpy and his message was that “nothing happened.” He downplayed everything and pointed to me that I was “making a big deal out of it” and that “something must be wrong with you.” When he did this, I felt such a conflict within me because he was, in fact denying or rationalizing his actions and words. Over time, I mentally began to doubt myself, thinking that I must be doing something wrong as a wife…that if only I did this or that, then I would be treated better. In reality, nothing that I did improved his treatment of me. In fact, I changed a great deal in order to please him because I love him and I am committed to my marriage vows. Nothing made a difference and he has not changed.
Another form of psychological abuse towards me was when my husband decided to give me the label, “obsessive compulsive” when he had no kind of medical background himself (he is a labourer). He went so far as to talk to the children behind my back and convince them of this label for me. In time, our children followed his lead and began calling me this name too.
My husband’s control was really evidenced in the area of time. The issue of time was a “touchy” subject in the family since it was my husband’s priority. It became a source of pressure and stress for the children and I because those in the family who were late got his cold shoulder treatment and ridicule and those who managed to be on time or early got praised or became his favourites.
I experienced some isolation from my network of support people during some of the abusive years. Since my husband and I and our 3 children went overseas for four years, there was that crucial time where I had nobody familiar around me.
My side of the family did not know of the abuse up to this point in time because I was “hoping” for a change in my husband. Much of this hope came from my faith in God and not particularly from anything that I saw in my husband. On the other hand, my husband’s parents knew of our marital struggles (but not his abuse) and they were the only ones we confided in. They phoned every week and even visited us overseas. Unfortunately, at a later date, my in-laws, whom I had always viewed as a support, would not believe that their son was abusive. Sadly, his parents would end up rejecting me to a great extent and would continue to place their son on a pedestal.
For the longest time I felt isolated from the people in our church. The reason for this was that they looked up to us as a missionary couple and esteemed my husband as a pastor and a missionary. In fact, my husband lived two lives: the public one with the church and the private one with myself and our 3 children. They were at opposing ends…contradictory to one another. What my husband was preaching about on Sundays was not being put into practice on the home front. I would continue to excuse him in my own mind, forgiving him and giving him yet, again, another chance.
When I reflect back on how I coped and responded to my husband’s abuse towards me, I would have to say that I internalized a lot and had periods of silence and depressed thoughts. On the one hand, I felt outraged, on the other hand, I felt like an outcast. So many times I sought refuge alone, within our bedroom, to weep and pray. My husband would eventually barge in, break the lock on the door and invade my space and solitude repeatedly.
There have, of course, been negative effects on the children. Our children witnessed him in his angry outbursts which caused them to be afraid. They also saw him repeatedly walk away from our home which left them with a feeling of abandonment. I recall a situation in which our oldest child tried to verbally intervene in a verbal argument that my husband and I were having in the car. He immediately put her in her place by threatening to stop the vehicle right then and there, to let her off alone and then drive away (our child was 10 years old at the time). She never did this again. When my husband’s disrespect and abuse of me began to seem routine to the children (ages 7, 9 & 11) and as I began to see his abusive tendencies transfer towards them – I knew that I had to intervene.
When my self-worth had hit rock bottom from his twelve years of neglect and abuse, I kindly asked him “to leave temporarily” so that I could build my self esteem back up. My husband laughed and did not take me seriously at first, then, he was personally offended and angry. With the help of my parents, as witnesses to my request, he did, in fact, move out and went to live with his parents. I know that I made the right choice about asking my husband to leave because if we had been together any longer under these conditions I would probably have had a nervous breakdown or the abuse would have escalated towards me or the children with detrimental effects.
During our first year of separation, my husband and I went through marital counselling which was unsuccessful because the abuse and addiction issues were not addressed. In fact, I recognized my own need for separate, individual counselling during the marital counselling process. So, I began individual counselling with this same counselling company until my husband interfered with it and actually sabotaged this opportunity.
Since our separation, my husband and I have been through a custody battle over our children. In the end, though, we settled it out of court which was less traumatic on the children. During the custody issues, I experienced a period of parental isolation towards me from our children and my husband. This was a very difficult time for me as I knew that my children were treating me this way because of the lies he was telling about me. Three years after the custody battle, our children are now older and wiser and are able to decipher the situation in a more balanced way and make their own conclusions. Over that time, they were able to recognize my sincere love and acts of kindness rather than just accepting my husband’s poor opinion of me. The relationships with all 3 of my children are fully restored.
When I was in the midst of the abuse I did not recognize it as such even though my mother had shared all her stories with me. Unfortunately, I was naïve and uninformed as to the different kinds of abuse. I wanted to believe the best about my husband as a human being and as a Christian. I thought, “No, he can’t be an abuser because he doesn’t beat me physically.” I was drawn into his mind games, believing it was my fault and my problem for his bad treatment of me and that his treatment of me “wasn’t so bad.” I trusted his circle of people which only ended up in isolating me further. I hesitated breaking or dulling my husband’s image as a Christian leader. That was then, but this is now. With knowledge, I now recognize the abuse for what it is. My husband still chooses to abuse but I no longer choose to be the victim. I have stepped out of the situation to become a resilient survivor.
When my husband uses neglect, emotional, psychological and financial abuse on me these days, rather than absorbing it or reacting to it, I simply point it out to him and “name” what he is doing out loud. He then chooses to not proceed with carrying on the abuse at that moment in time.
This is a survivor’s story. I am a survivor of abuse. There is a combination of factors which helped me to become free from this abusive entanglement. Someone concerned gently directed me to a women’s counsellor who was specially trained in dealing with abusive situations. I was led to attend a “When Love Hurts” support group and other helpful women’s workshops on self esteem and finances. Learning and becoming informed helped to dispel a lot of misconceptions and helped me to identify the abuse which I experienced. I got wise counsel from expert professionals and advocates such as a lawyer, a mediator and a financial adviser. I stayed connected with good support people (family and friends) who understood the dynamics of abusive relationships. I got wise counsel, spiritual, practical and prayer support from my church. I found specific counselling in my community for our children through the Children Who Witness Abuse Program. Lastly, and certainly the most inspiring for me has been to hear or read of other women’s survival stories from abuse. Whether it was through listening to a woman share her story in a support group setting, reading current blogs on Violence Unsilenced, or digesting Kamal Dhillon’s book, Black and Blue Sari… all of these gave me the courage I needed to become a “survivor” rather than to remain a victim.
Pursue your own health, wholeness and healing. For me, healing and wholeness came through listening to music, getting out in nature and spending time with other survivors of abuse. Once you make the discovery of what brings healing to you, you will then be able to regain the control which was taken from you and shed the “victim mentality.” You will know who you are. You will regain your voice. You will feel strong again. I do.