Monthly Archives: January 2012

Sex in an Abusive Marriage, Part 2

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This isn’t an easy series. I don’t like talking about sex because, in my experience, sex was never okay.  If you arrived with your knickers all a-twist, this post will set them twirling. You might want to skip on over to here.

Interesting thing happened once I came out as an unloved wife. Other women started talking, looking over their shoulder from time to time as if the spirit of their own private beast might be listening, then slipping quietly back inside the likeness of an Ozzie and Harriet life. Some spoke openly if only for a moment, usually of times long past, then back they went  to make goo-goo eyes at the new husband, more than happy to leave the dead burying their own.

Who can blame them?

Listening as I was with ears still bleeding, I kept hearing the same theme—sex as a power play. Specifically, sex used as a tool to gain power over the victim. And oh! what an effective tool it is—

Many Branches, Same Roots

In some cases, the husband refused to have sex with his wife claiming she’d let herself go, gained weight or otherwise made herself repulsive to his delicate sensibilities.  Two women told almost identical stories of husbands who kept them on the hamster wheel for years.  One man told his wife how many pounds she had to lose, then once she hit her target weight, told her it didn’t matter because he didn’t really like a woman with large breasts. Another treated her body as radioactive, refusing to touch her as she aged and taking up with a girl just out of her teens the minute she left.

Other stories mirrored my own experience of a demanding man always wanting more. The stories all went something like this (with a few kinks here and there just to keep things off-balance):

Man complains about quantity (not having sex often enough), wife ups frequency, man complains about quality of experience.

Wife reads a few books, works at bringing spice to bed, husband gripes about her lack of enthusiasm.

Wife takes a few acting classes, fools husband into thinking he is sexy beast, husband complains about her appearance.

Wife joins Weight Watchers, goes to gym, gets new haircut, collapses from exhaustion from running all over the place, husband complains about frequency.

Wife quits trying. I mean really, if he’s going to be unhappy anyway.

Husband blames her forever.

Another version involved men who maintain a simmering grudge over the wife’s former relationships—maybe she wasn’t a virgin before they married or, in one ironic case, an outwardly pious man angry because his wife allowed *him* to take liberties before their wedding. That one just slays me. The wife in question was not laughing however.

A variation on this is The Affair. Husband mistreats wife, wife has a fling, husband pursues wife like crazy wanting to reconcile and graciously takes her back, then proceeds to  verbally/emotionally beat the crud out of her forever and ever. In these cases, the husbands said they couldn’t trust their wives and  constantly demanded the offending wife prove their fidelity. She made a mistake, they both know it. Only nothing she does will ever be enough to heal his aching soul.

One man I know calls his wife, “that slut”—not to her face mind you. He saves this lovely phrase for his male pals. I’m actually related to that slut and a more faithful woman could not be found under God’s heaven. He’s referring to the well known fact that before she accepted Christ, she lived with a man in a common law marriage. I have yet to understand why someone hasn’t punched this creep right in the chops for talking about his wife this way.

Rock and a Hard Place

In every case, I’m going to say one thing. I don’t think any of these men want the problem fixed. I don’t think they desire healing and restoration. In their twisted world, it’s in their best interest to keep the pain fresh and their wives hurting at all times for a very simple reason.  Ammunition—a way to claim the moral high ground, justifying their abusive ways. This never-ending merry-go-round provides both power and control over the wife. Shame, guilt, blame—all powerful tools to keep the balance of power firmly under the husband’s control.

In my case, I believe my husband did not want to be faithful. Monogamy wasn’t his thing. Having a frigid wife gave him justification for extra-marital affairs and an ongoing affair between his right hand and a computer screen . Sex with me became just one more form of masturbation, one he was more than willing to indulge and another way to vent his anger. Making love would’ve required effort. Keeping me constantly off-guard and hurting gave him a tool to control because I could not deny his unhappiness. Nor could I ever fix things. Only he could say when and if he was finally happy with me in the bedroom and that was never going to happen.

Please note that I’m not trying to negate the sins and mistakes of the victim. I am, however, trying to point out the parallel between the abuser’s treatment of his wife’s weaknesses and/or failings and the very real condemnation the devil himself unleashes against repentant sinners to keep them defeated through ongoing, paralyzing guilt. The husband in these cases becomes the accuser of the brethren. In Christ, there is forgiveness, hope and restoration. A husband that refuses to attend counseling, refuses to accept his wife’s efforts to change, refuses to admit that his own actions may play a role has no desire for a happy ending. There’s a big, big difference between a man who’s working through issues in a marriage and one using those issues as leverage in an ongoing war.

While editing Part One,  I realized that somewhere along the line, I dropped the phrase, The Beast, and called that oaf of a man ‘my husband.’ My counselor would have a field day with that little slip, wouldn’t he? I did not edit those references out because I think it shows something important. In this area, I’m not  free of the pain of being so despised by a man I gave myself to over and over for decades.  I still see myself as that woman crouching in the dark, trying to keep her husband from seeing the naked body he loathed.

Part 3 to come if I don’t change my mind and write about something more pleasant like root canals or weasel wrestling. Also note that in the few stories I found online with male victims, this pattern of sex-as-weapon seemed to hold true. The stories related here are firsthand accounts. If interested check out here and here.

Sex in an Abusive Marriage , Part 1

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I do not want to talk about this. In fact,  this topic can sprout wings and leave for Mars for all I care. Unfortunately, I can’t escape the repercussions.

Looking in the mirror each night, I see an ugly woman. I see chopped off hair, bad posture, ugly glasses. I see ugly white skin covered in scars, legs crisscrossed with spiderveins. One day I realized what I’m really seeing.

I see an unloved woman. I see myself through my husband’s eyes.

Even with a little time and distance, I struggle with guilt and shame. I do blame myself—my head says the man was a first class jerk, the little guys with the hammers inside my heart  keep saying something else entirely.

Heffalumps and Woozles

Sex is the elephant in the room. The biggie no one wants to discuss, the thing the beast considered my biggest failing as a wife.

How hard can it be to have sex? It’s one of the most basic life functions, right up there with eating and sleeping. What’s so hard about taking off your clothes and wiggling around until the husband is happy and satisfied?

I don’t know. He never was and nothing I did ever fixed things.

He said we didn’t have sex often enough. I wasn’t enthusiastic enough. I wasn’t sexy enough. He called me frigid and said I had issues. When I asked to go to counseling together, he refused saying he didn’t have a problem, I did. If I wanted to go fine, but he wasn’t paying for it. That left free counseling at the church where my father was a pastor, probably not the best option.

When I left, he made the rounds of our friends, speaking in private to the husbands. Later I would hear back from a couple of  wives who wanted to give me a chance to explain myself. The beast said I left his bed a year before I moved out. No idea what else he said, but this seemed to be enough ‘proof’ of what a rotten wife I’d been and of his saint-like patience all those years.  I didn’t bother trying to explain.

I do know what he told my own mother. Along with saying I’d cut him off, he cried and said  I couldn’t stand him touching me, that I had sexual issues relating to my childhood and he’d been extraordinarily long suffering over the years considering. That a man can only take so much. So what if he was angry? What would anyone expect? He was frustrated. He’d done more than any reasonable man could be expected to do. After all, he’d been completely faithful for thirty years.

Saying I left his bed is a blatant lie. I did not leave his bed. I was way too scared to say no. But the rest is difficult to sort out. Because of that one falsehood, I cling to the notion that much of what he says isn’t true either. But I will admit, some days it’s a stretch.  Because it *is* true that by the time I left, I couldn’t stand for him to touch me any longer.

Men Will Be Men

During those last ten days, my husband assured me that nobody would believe me and  any man who heard his complaints would take his side. Honest to goodness, I think he may have a point. I want to believe that some man, somewhere would understand what I’m about to write without sympathizing with my husband. I don’t like thinking that all men think in lockstep when it comes to physical intimacy.

This is not nice and it certainly isn’t one bit fair.  It’s prejudice. But all I can tell is the truth and the truth is this. I don’t like men much right now.

I’m going to put myself out there  and talk about the Great Unmentionable. In the South we have a term I’ll employ here—delicacy. I’m going to try to be delicate so as not to offend anyone, but right up front I’m telling you plain and simple, I’m talking about sex and I’m going to use appropriate terminology. My husband told his side of the story using code words and let others draw their own conclusion. I’ll explain  a few of those as we go.

Some of my thinking may be very off so fair warning–you can’t take what’s said here and turn it into gospel. These are simply my experiences, my observations, my story. Since I  intend to practice celibacy for the rest of my days here upon earth, I have no idea what healing might look like. But here’s my mantra right off so you don’t miss it.

I don’t believe people have a right to engage in sexual relations. My husband believed this with every fiber of his being. For years, I agreed but I just could not make it work. Now, I believe physical intimacy is a gift from God above and the beautiful culmination of a love lived well together.

Problems in the relationship are often found in the bedroom. Lack of trust, fear, anger. If something is desperately wrong, forcing one party or the other to go at it anyway can be devastating.

Sex also provides a looking glass to examine the relationship. I believe that’s a good thing. In a normal, healthy couple, something goes off, you examine, you work things out, you make up.

This is not that story.

The only thing I know to do is tell my side. It’s a little raw and not for kiddies. I’d rate it about a PG13. There’s just some things I can’t tell without being descriptive.

In The Beginning

As soon as we got back from that awful honeymoon, the anti-husband told me there would be no more cuddling. I could not rest my hand on his leg, snuggle up next to him on the couch, rub my hands across his shoulders. As we did plenty of cuddling before the wedding, this came as a shock.

His reason? He said it wasn’t fair. He said if I wanted affection I had to pay up. All physical touching had to end in orgasm, preferably his.

In practicality, this meant I never had the opportunity to warm up to the idea. If I’d had a bad day, worked a double shift, experiencing all day morning sickness, I couldn’t hug him unless I already knew I wanted to finish the job. It also meant, I couldn’t allow him to hug *me* because he made it very clear that hugs must proceed to completion. Writing this out, it sounds crazy but I’m not even slightly exaggerating. In all the years, this policy of his didn’t change. In fact, it became the first codeword. He’d ask for affection instead of sex. Then he could complain that I refused to hug him. It was one of his favorite jabs to take in public.

Combined with this was his anger if I refused his advances. And by advances, I mean using his physical size to pin me down and get started without any preamble. He’d simply walk in, throw me on the bed (or floor, or table) and start taking off my clothes or groping private areas. The only way to say no was to push him off and the man was twice my size. He called this ‘rejection.’ So now I was not only refusing affection, I rejected him which hurt his feelings.

Refusal was met with badgering. He kept me awake for hours after I said no. Now you might think from this description we weren’t intimate but nothing could be further from the truth. We had sex daily, sometimes multiple times. A typical example–we’d already had sex, I had six hours  to sleep before a major exam the next morning, get up to pee trying like crazy-nuts to be oh-so quiet so as not to wake the beast, go back to bed and… gotcha. I said I wasn’t in the mood. I was exhausted. I had to get up the next day. He got angry and whined and moaned and begged and tried every manipulative tactic until I gave in just to get some rest.

I Can’t Get No. . .

Afterwards, he was never satisfied. Either I wasn’t enthusiastic enough or I wouldn’t go along with some of his favorite ideas. Bondage seemed to be his thing (shocking, I know.) That man always wanted to tie me up naked somewhere. He told me I wasn’t attractive, especially without make-up.  I needed too much of his attention to reach orgasm which was essential to his fantasy. I suppose just looking at him should bring me to a glorious climax but for some odd reason, this never happened.

Combined with his raging fits, life was becoming a waking nightmare. Then, after some teaching at our church on the scripture about a woman’s body belonging to her husband, he expected access to my body sexually even when I was asleep. He thought it was his right as my husband to be able to climb atop and get busy whenever the urge hit. So there goes the nighttime.

I will not say we made love because we didn’t. Not once, not ever. My husband was my only teacher in this area and he taught me to perform ‘jobs’ and then told me what he wanted. (I’m not typing those words out, dadgumit. Think of an explicit term that ends in ‘job’ and use your imagination a little.) Eventually, I felt like a whore doing ‘jobs’ for my room and board. I’ve never told anyone that before so count yourself special.

You’re Lying

Then sexual intercourse started hurting. He saw this as a sign of weakness and refused to take it into consideration. He said I was lying to get out of sleeping with him. Because my pre-marriage enthusiasm had evaporated, I wondered if he was right. My body said it hurt but from what I read, from what I was told, it *shouldn’t* hurt. I began to doubt my own reality.

I found that if I complained, he got more “robust and vigorous” (please read between the lines here) which made the pain worse and which I assume was because of his anger which he took out during intimacy.  For certain, he’d be mad when he finished because I’d ruined it for him. For obvious reasons, I stopped complaining but the pain did not go away. At least a year later, the doctor diagnosed me with Chlamydia which if you aren’t aware, is a sexually transmitted disease that causes physical intimacy to be painful. The doctor said something along the lines of, once this is cleared up, you’ll be able to have sex again.

Oh really.

When confronted, the beast  denied giving me an STD. He got angry. (Big surprise).  He said I probably got it on a toilet seat (because I always rub my bare genitals on naked toilet seats) and I was faking the pain anyway because it ‘couldn’t possibly hurt that bad’. Then he gave me his favorite line, “If you don’t trust me, I might as well have an affair.” By this time, I was ready to make the introductions.

He said I was frigid. I was a disappointment. This wasn’t what he expected from his own wife. I tried telling him how I felt, talked about my need for affection without demands, asked him to go to counseling with me (he refused saying I was the one with a problem), read every book I could find on the subject. I began hoping he’d have an affair just so I could get some rest.

The raging fits continued. At this point, he blew up about once a month although his simmering temper, pouting, silent treatment, door slamming built for weeks toward each eruption. During this time I was expected to do my wifely duties.

I was a virgin when we married. I had no idea what might or might not be normal. Teaching from our church wasn’t helping. We had several middle aged men teaching the young married couples. We were taught in a mixed group. For some reason, the teacher’s wives never spoke. I well remember the series on sex.

“It may be morally wrong to have an affair but there’s always two sides to every story. If you haven’t given yourself openly, enthusiastically to your husband, can you really blame him for seeking comfort in another woman’s arms? Yes, your husband may sin, but you share the blame. In God’s eyes, who’s fault is it really? Remember this verse—For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. (1 Corinthians 7:4) ”

“There’s nothing dirty or unclean about sex. The marriage bed is undefiled. Whatever, whenever. Christians should be having the best sex—the more the better!”

“Christian women are horrible prudes. Lighten up! You want to keep your husband happy? You want a happy homelife? Meet his needs. Go past your comfort zone, then go further!”

I felt like I was in hell. I learned to go through the motions without feelings of any kind. Sex is a physical act. I could act out physically and shelve those feelings somewhere for the time it took to get done. Parts of my body stopped responding to any sort of touch. I pretended they did. I deserved an Oscar.

But there were limits to my ability to disconnect and finally I told the beast, once a day and you leave me alone between times. I have to work, I have to finish my school assignments, I have to rest.

He was furious. So what else is new?

But over time, it took longer and longer to stuff those feelings inside. I could not stand by the sink getting yelled at about the dishes and strip my clothes off ten minutes later while he had angry sex to make himself feel better. After being told how unattractive my body was, how I needed to work out, to get a tan, to stop growing hair so fast on my legs, etc. I could barely stand to look at myself in the mirror. My husband was not attracted to me. He could have done better,  his friends said so. I was such a disappointment.

I wanted to hurt myself. I stopped eating. My weight hit the hundred pound mark. He said I needed to tone up.

At about the three year mark, I told him, every other day. I can’t do this anymore and I refuse to do anything you’re coming up with from those dirty books you use to read. (At this point, I thought his use of pornography was past tense).  I wouldn’t budge. At this point, if he left  for another woman, good riddance. I’d enter a nunnery and take the blame for everything. I just didn’t care anymore.

The whining and begging grew less boisterous but he found other ways to punish. He picked at everything I did, criticizing everything from the music I liked to the shape of my thighs. I was starting to feel like every sexual act was an assault.

I tried. I really did. Nothing pleased him. If I tried something recommended in one of the self-help books, dressed in some wild outfit I’d found at a store I could barely make myself walk through, he’d always just say something along the lines of, you can do better next time or it’s a start we’ll see if this improvement continues. I do not remember one word of kindness. Not one.

Because the men in our church were the ones  teaching on marriage (usually the topic of female submission) I decided to ask a few women. Yes, I told them what was going on. Some of the advice I received during this time:

From my mother: “That’s just how men are. Never refuse your husband. Men are physical creatures who experience love through sex. If you have relations with him every time he asks, he will love you. He won’t be able to help himself.”

From the woman’s Bible Study leader: “Honey? You’ve got a young, virile husband there. He is a good looking man. Take a look around—if  you don’t take care of him, someone else will.”

From the associate pastor’s wife: “You come from an uptight family. You’ve got to loosen up some. Here’s some books to help you out.” Here she points to a boxed set of books on her shelf. Flipping through, I found  pages and pages of naked couples,  groups of three  or more. I must have looked pretty shocked because she laughed at my reaction. She said the human body was a beautiful thing and there was nothing wrong with looking at God’s creation.

(As a sidenote, by this time I was pretty desperate. I did go buy these books and kept them under my bed. I would look at the pictures, think of being somewhere else, with someone else and then shove them back under the bed before my husband got there. This seemed to work for awhile until a funny thing happened. My conscience smote the crap out of me. Didn’t matter who gave me those damn books, I was getting in trouble with my Savior. I repented and burned them. I also vowed never to go asking for help again.

This is definitely a two-parter. Please be praying for me as I try to complete this.

Thank you–

Prayer Request

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To those of you who’ve been kind enough to follow along, I’d like to ask a favor. I’m writing a post on a most difficult subject and things aren’t going so well. I may have to stop and pick it up again later.

I tried to lay this one down but this needs to be addressed even if the post never gets published. Please pray for clarity and grace as I muddle on through.

In the meantime, I’ll be reading some of your articles and commenting here.

Thank you~

Recommended: The Abuser’s Evil Demands for Forgiveness by Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood

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This one article can set you free. No kidding. If only I’d understand how this cycle of build-up/abuse/honeymoon worked, so many things would’ve been different.

I don’t talk much about the good times because looking back, there weren’t any. And yet the beast said I love you every single day. He cried if his last blow up were particularly heinous, he brought home flowers and even the occasional you’re-a-wonderful-wife Hallmark card.

He also demanded that I forgive him instantly and never mention the incident again. He made sure I realized this was really my own fault an if I weren’t such a rotten wife, things would be different. After all, how much can a man be expected to take?

When he admitted to using porn, he demanded instant reconciliation– as in, I got one night to be upset and I’d better be ready to go by the next. For some strange reason, this didn’t work out so well.

What I didn’t know? The anti-husband acted like a typical abuser– build-up the tension, look for an excuse to rage followed by The Incident, then his idea of repentance. Other women use to come in my kitchen  and make over the flowers on the table, totally unaware I paid for every single one in ways they wouldn’t understand. Those were not I-love-you flowers, those were I’m a jack-ass flowers (but now that I’ve brought them home, you have to forgive and forget or you’re the one in trouble.)

Here’s an excerpt from Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood’s article:

Another common and wicked tactic of the “Christian” abuser is his insistence, on supposed biblical grounds, that his victim continually forgive him and love him. Anyone who knows much at all about the nature of abuse will realize that abuse occurs in a cyclical manner which involves several stages. The stage that comes right after the big blowup stage is commonly called the “honeymoon stage.” During this time, which can be short or long, the abuser can appear to be contrite, remorseful and even very kind. He expresses remorse over what he has done and promises it will never happen again. He makes promises that he’ll change, that this time all will be different. He might buy presents for his victim, fulfill a few past promises made to her or even appear to take an interest in spiritual things. His promises are all nonsense, of course. In fact, because his supposed sorrow and repentance is FALSE (he even has himself deceived about it), the cycle WILL repeat itself. After all, that is the nature of a “cycle,” right?

When the abuser “repents,” he always includes more or less flagrant demands that the victim needs to forgive him. He will often throw in a couple of “false guilt/blaming” missiles about how his abuse was caused at least in part by the victim. None of this is true repentance. In fact, this is abuse itself. The honeymoon period is within the cycle of abuse and is just another aspect of the abuse. It contributes to the confusion of the victim and works to strengthen the abuser’s control over her.

Head over here to read the rest.

Nowadays, I buy my own flowers, thanks much.

Interview Over at Moving On After He Moves Out

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Not long ago, I found a new blog by Angela Ruth Strong, Moving On After He Moves Out, commented on one of her smarty pants remarks and got myself interviewed. Life is odd sometimes.

I love her site and the way she handles the tough issues of divorce with honesty and grace.

Angela asked some tough questions, some I haven’t bothered to ask myself just yet. Things like, “How long were you married and what was the image of your marriage that was presented to the world?” and “Where are you now in the healing journey?

The image of my marriage that was presented to the world?

Apologies may be in order.

To read the interview go here, then check out her awesome writing. Thank you so much Angela for having me!

Recommended: Cindy Burrell: Ezine Articles and Other Good Stuff

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Life with the anti-husband was never fun but during the seven days of hell before leaving, the man screamed, hollered, blamed God and searched for some answer as to why I was emasculating him this way. Refusing to back down equals castration. Who knew? And asking someone to go to anger management who screams, hollers, yells and blames deity seven days straight without taking a breath is defiant. (Clarification: The Seven Days of Hell were actually Ten Days of Hell but the first three consisted of the mutter/mumble/slam doors/stomp around/slam things/silent treatment.)

None of this is particularly relevant except that in his search for enlightenment, the beast blamed ‘bitter internet women.’ Upon which, my ears perked as, believe it or not, this was my first clue that maybe, just maybe, someone out there might understand the horror of my homelife. After all, people blog on make-up, monkeys, money– why not monsters?

After leaving, I started looking and found…

…nothing.

You Could Never Do This on Your Own So Who Have You Been Talking To??

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of angry folks abound  both male and female. I found women who’s husbands walked out, women who burned their brassieres and wrote bad poetry, women who cut their hair, their skin, their souls and blamed society. But this pool of bitterness, this raging foam of female, middle-aged Christian rebellion, this conspiracy against Christian Manhood? Nada.

Turns out I didn’t have the vocabulary to search properly. At this point, terms such as verbal abuse meant less than nothing, some psycho-babble made up to sell books, certainly nothing that pertained to the prison of my home. I was confused, blistered, raw and still hearing the anti-husband’s talking points any time I got still for half a minute. Those BIW’s turned out to be an elusive bunch.

I heard the word abuse mentioned for the first time in the counselor’s office. Don’t get me wrong, I tried it out a few times. I knew what went on wasn’t right, I knew the kids were severely wounded, I knew it had to stop. But… he never hit me.  Hitting equals abuse. Everything else falls under the category, bad manners, and as I’d been told over and over, I had a problem, I was too sensitive, I was weak . (Note: he did actually hit me early on, but let’s save that story for the post on bullying.)

On this particular day, I sat in the comfy chair with my box of tissues trying to describe the tension in our house. The way the kids and I looked at one another when the anti-husband-mobile pulled in the driveway, stood frozen waiting for the door to open. How we could tell what kind of night we were in for by how hard he slammed the door and the amount of growling before he got through the entry.

Someone left muddy shoes by the door? Unacceptable. How dare anyone inconvenience the beast. Don’t you know how tired he is? No one appreciates the beast! Stepping an extra eight inches over a pair of filthy, stinkin’, nasty shoes will not be tolerated in his house! This better not happen again! Who’s shoes are these anyway??!! Louder and louder and louder until the rabbits react and then the mad dash as everyone scatters. Every single night.

The counselor says, all calm and stuff the way counselors do, “So you were all emotionally abused, that’s for certain, now what about–”

Too bad for him I was no longer in the chair. The synapses quit firing, the room goes dark around the edges, fingers drum the arm of the chair, one leg swinging like it’s taking off for Mars and one confused counselor waving like crazy to get the crazy woman’s attention.

Well I’ll Be…

This was A Clue. The loose string that once yanked,  unraveled the chords twisted around my thinking. I had to know more, I *needed* to understand. And no way could I afford counseling for myself when the kiddies kept curling up in random corners sucking their thumbs that way.

I asked a few more questions, made note of Counselor from Heaven’s vocabulary and went searching. And just like that, I found manna from above. Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bandcroft. The Verbally Abusive Relationship, by Patricia Evans.  I bought a stack of goodies, charged the anti-husband’s account and hoped he didn’t remember the Amazon password.

These were not my best days. I read and underlined and squawled and read some more. Things began snapping in place. I googled verbal abuse, bullying, emotional abuse, sexual abuse in marriage and found tons of informative websites. Confusion departed.

I made an appointment for myself with the counselor.

But what I did not find were like-minded women, Christian or otherwise,who walked this out already. I didn’t know where to look for one thing and for another, I suspected they might be afraid to talk just like someone else I knew. But I wanted– no, I needed– to find someone battle tested and relatively sane with stories to tell.

Enter Cindy Burrell

Took a year to find her website. She appears neither angry nor bitter although her faith is obvious. Tucked among the articles and book reviews she moderates a forum with ladies brave enough to tell their stories, sometimes for the first time. I read but do not participate. I suspect many others do the same. Fear makes a horrid taskmaster.

More truths snapped together inside my soul and this time I cried, not for myself, but for all the hurting lambs collectively. The heavens opened, birds sang and I exaggerate only a wee little bit. I saw the power play of weak abusers pounding their mates behind closed doors and realized something profound. No way these creeps could get away with this without the darkness. Isolate the victims first, make them feel responsible, keep them separated from anyone who might help. And with that epiphany I knew I had to start talking.

In case you’ve arrived here in similar shape, here are a few links to Cindy’s amazing series of articles along with a few selected quotes:

I Know How the Blind Man Felt

I have never been blind, but I have been in bondage.

During my 20 years of marriage to a verbally and emotionally abusive Christian man, I did everything I knew to encourage him to see me as his wife, to submit to his leading (even when he was wrong), love and pray him back to the Lord. I forgave his many offenses against me, and I can’t begin to count the hours I spent either crying or praying for the restoration of our marriage. I imagined a day when my husband would return to his first love and recommit himself to our relationship. My first priority was to serve God, as I believed with all my heart that my faith in God and my love toward my husband would bring about God’s perfect result. I chose obedience and waited on my Lord.

Then, at what seemed like the most unlikely moment, when I least expected it, the Lord released me. I have never once doubted it. Even in writing the words, though, I anticipate the skepticism of those who may read them. Miracles that occur outside of the bounds of our spiritual limits must be rejected.

In my own experience, and in my exposure to the experiences of other women who are abuse victims, it is apparent that there is a bizarre, almost word-for-word script associated with the behaviors and character qualities of abusers. Although I have not been exposed to physical abuse, a majority of these earmarks seem to be evident, whether the abuse is physical, verbal and/or emotional. Here we go…

The Introvert Meets the Man of Her Dreams…

When the abuser finally snuffs out the final spark of hope the victim holds out, his victim will need to muster the strength to tell her secrets and ask for help. Yet the abuser has been mindful to keep his public image distinctly separate from his private brutality. After so many months or years of surviving in the shadows – even fortifying the false image of their “happy” home and keeping the abuser’s terrible secrets – the day finally arrives that this abuse victim decides to take a risk and speak up. In spite of all she has been through, she has to wonder: Will anyone believe her?

Working Through Bad Memories

In our household, it is affectionately referred to as “bad juju.” I suppose that acknowledging temporary insanity with a dose of humor is half the battle. But when our lives are humming along at a fairly even keel, it is not at all humorous when one of us suddenly stumbles into it. The bad juju.

For us, bad juju is what we call an old wound that we thought was healed but isn’t – somewhat akin to post traumatic stress. An otherwise innocent situation can unexpectedly propel us back to a disturbing memory, registering an immediate, fear-based reaction – an emotional nosedive.

Cindy has twenty-two articles and every single one is gold. You can find the complete list here. Cindy and her husband have a wonderful blog that highlights her books and the forums I mentioned here. When you visit, please leave her a few encouraging words and tell her Ida Mae sent you.

Naked Pencil Dance~ A Little Clarification

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This blog began with two objectives. Be honest, Help others. Seems straightforward enough but just for funsies, let’s make a few clarifications.

In the spirit of self-disclosure, I curse sometimes in rough draft. Those spicy little words are not intended to make it to the blog. Years ago while writing fiction, I learned that allowing the subconscious to speak brings wild-eyed revelations, particularly for someone who locked away her feelings for so long. Sometimes it indicates anger or bitterness. I’m not afraid of anger anymore and considering everything that happened, anger is a reasonable response. Bitterness on the other hand, sends down roots and defiles many. I do not want to be a bitter person. Therefore,  I treat these posts the same way I treat counseling. Everything goes to the Father. Writing gives me plenty to pray about.

If you find a word or two offensive, it probably got skipped over in editing which might in itself indicate a need for extra prayer sessions. I’m not ashamed of calling the estranged a jackass, I simply don’t want to turn others off who might possess more delicate sensibilities. Once upon a time, I was very delicate myself, an outwardly holy armor to keep from having to think too much. If you find the entire post offensive, then you and me have a problem. I can’t change who I am or what I’m going through and while my natural tendency’s to stay quiet, stay in hiding and lick my wounds, that helps no one.

One day, I hope to write about these issues in my own name. Therefore, every word on this blog is mine and I own it. Someday, when the Lord and circumstances release me, I’ll out myself. I’m not hiding behind anonymity to write any old thing I want. I’m hiding because my family is still in danger.

This is my Angry Face

I have feelings—good, bad or indifferent, they are mine. In my fifth decade, I’m finally learning to identify emotions like anger, sadness, humiliation. In some ways, my emotional health is woefully immature and its liable to peek through from time to time.

Everything you see here is just me, struggling with those nasty little emotion thingies. You’ll find no self-censoring, no judgment calls about the rightness or wrongness of any feeling unless, of course, I’m feeling guilty in which case I’m likely to beat myself about the head and shoulders whilst waxing eloquent on my many moral failings.

I do try to be honest but honesty took a turn a few years back. From the moment the I-do’s were said, I took sole responsibility for any and all marital problems while the beast took none. I didn’t realize this was the case for quite awhile but once it became clear he blamed me and me alone for anything and everything he said or did, I knew I just couldn’t carry this burden any longer.

Did I make mistakes? All the time but I’m learning, not so many as I once thought.  Do I share some of the blame? Indeed, but not in the ways I always suspected.

So you won’t see much groveling here. I spent way too much time groveling before someone helpful enough to grind me in the dirt. Frankly, I’m done.

Assumptions Make an Ass

If you’re wondering, I’m not given to making assumptions. So when I say he blamed me, he did. Literally. It isn’t nice to pretend to know what’s going on in someone else’s head and I will not write something here unless he said it himself. Sometimes I may qualify things—he seemed to think, he acted like we were, I got the idea that he—but if there’s no qualifier, it’s straight from the jackass’s mouth.

Laying on your back at the bottom of the pigpen, its hard sometimes to find the diamonds in the muck. One blessing in disguise occurred because I stayed so very long. The beast began to say the most astonishing things. He said out loud things I suspected but never quite believed, at first only to me, later in front of our grown children. I’m guessing he got so comfortable with his level of control and my submission to his every whim,  he literally thought he could get away with saying anything simply by denying it loudly later. I could list a few dozen examples but perhaps it’s best to let those crop up organically in the stories.

Beastly Man, Really

I’ve had a couple of comments about calling the estranged the beast. It’s much nicer than anything else I’ve called him for awhile now but this will probably not make the critics happy either.

A husband, by definition, loves and protects his wife. He should be proud she’s his, think she’s awesome, want to see her grow and learn, nurturing her gifts, gently living out his life with her while they both become more like the Savior. The two grow together in grace.

Living on the other side of the Looking Glass hurts like bloody hell.

Discovering you’re married to someone who hates you, who wants to dominate, control, manipulate your every thought and action—that’s a tough cookie to choke on.

Since the day I found out just how much my husband despises me, I’ve had a hard time admitting we’re married (which we are, by law even if the marriage is zombie-fried.) Sitting across the table from someone for seven days and listening as they outline how much they truly hate you cannot be described. Forget my heart, felt like someone blew away my entire chest cavity.

The problem went something like this. I thought I married someone flawed but somewhat reasonable, someone with similar values, goals and beliefs. I didn’t. I married someone lacking in things essential to personhood—things like a conscience, empathy, reasoning skills. Because of this, he didn’t see me as a person either which made any sort of cooperative relationship impossible. For him, it was all a contest. Win or lose, me or him.

When I call him the beast, I’m not trying to be mean. It’s simply a fitting description.

Full Disclosure

At some point, I intend to write about some really bad days.

Writing is cathartic. I rearrange things, place them in their proper spots, look for patterns, find the beginning, middle, and wrap it all up. It helps process things I might otherwise internalize. For example, when the Going to Hell email arrived, I literally felt a sensation of flying apart. I couldn’t read, couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t think. Then the numbness set in. Hurt gave way to nothing. Nothing at all. In case you’re wondering, kiddies, this is not good.

I set the email aside, prayed like crazy, showed it to a friend and let her tell me what it said, called another friend the next day and ranted for over an hour, then sunk into a blinding pit for several days. Only then did I feel strong enough to reread the missive and only because my original email asked questions about financial things and the answers were  somewhere in that mess of damning my soul.

It wasn’t until I hit the keyboard that relief oozed in and the absurdity in his demented raving became crystal. That post helped heal my spirit.

A dear friend does the same with her art. She loses herself in the colors and shapes, stretching beautiful scripture around her pictures like windsongs. Another plays the piano, pouring herself into the melody, the throbbing, pounding chords of the old spirituals and hymns. Our creativity is a direct reflection of our Creator, a living gift. We cannot heal ourselves but the Spirit of the Living God, working in beauty and harmony with his creation can partner with us to pull us right side up again.

I did not write the day I fell apart. I wrote on the upswing. I do believe to be truly helpful, I need to let you peek into the anguish that overtakes my soul, the pit my enemy dug just for me. It won’t be pretty. By God’s grace, I don’t live there anymore.

But if one dear lamb can be helped by my honesty, then it’s what I have to offer. If one other can recognize my brokenness through these words, maybe they can recognize the wreckage in others. Maybe they can begin to see their own.

Maybe we can stop trying to be so perfect and just be.

Get Free, Stay Free

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Suffer, you need healing.

Profound I know. Only I didn’t  for years. And while this blog could be one big rant-fest from here on out (the anti-husband provides a constant stream of inspiration) I’m not exactly getting any  younger nor do I want to live out these twilight years gazing upon my belly button.

So in a highly non-professional, non-authoritarian fashion, here’s what I learned. Definitely a work in progress and hopefully those further down this path will chime in.

1) Swallow that pride. And its corollary: Recognize you may have some.

Granted,  an abused woman has little personal dignity left but pride can still be a sticking point to getting out and getting free.

To get out, you’re going to need help from family, from authorities, from friends and bystanders and if you’ve lived  any length of time locked away inside your own misery, asking can be about as pleasant as a root canal.

Funny thing—as the marriage fell apart, I found myself on the floor quite often, repenting for all sorts of things. I writhed around, crying, confessing my many failings–  submitting to my husband halfheartedly, not praying for him with the proper enthusiasm, being a rotten wife, a horrible dance partner and a worse mother. After some of this, the Lord stopped the tirade. He said, in no uncertain terms, that I was repenting over the wrong stuff.

Seems I was just bumping over with pride.

Not to argue with the Almighty mind you, but really, what was He thinking? Took some time to understand—much longer than confessing the anti-husband’s old talking points—but eventually a few lovely gems worked their way upward. For your amusement, here’s my confessional:

I didn’t want anyone to know my marriage/family wasn’t perfect. Not friends, not enemies, not anyone.

I cared what others thought  to the point of creating an illusion of a godly home by both my words and the omission of my words. Folks had the wrong idea, I let them think what they wanted. When the anti-husband pulled something in public that just couldn’t be ignored, I said my husband was difficult sometimes. Difficult? Threatening your children with a gun is difficult?

I thought I could change my husband if only I could find the right combination of prayer, fasting, obedience, submission, meekness, quietness, goodness. My abuser fed off this like a pig at a trough.

I hated the stigma of being a divorced woman and refused to play.

I knew what religious people would say if I left, therefore I didn’t want to be the one doing the leaving.

I didn’t want to admit I made a mistake. At our wedding, the attendants were taking bets on how long the marriage would last. The longest time frame? Three  years. Who wants *that* chorus of I-told-you-so’s singing in the background.

Then you have pride’s evil twin—arrogance.

I told the kids they would  never have to worry about their parents getting a divorce. Know why? Because I made up my mind I would never leave no matter what. I thought I could hold the marriage together all by myself. I made promises I couldn’t keep and never stopped to question why the kids kept asking.

Just who did I think I was exactly?

When the no-matter-what got past the point of holding on a moment longer, I still hung on.  I knew he wasn’t going anywhere—he didn’t like women enough to find another (took too long to ‘train ‘em right’, direct quote) and he liked hurting us way too much. When everything fell apart I told him, you’re not that old. You’ve got plenty of time to find another woman to torment for the next thirty years. His response? But I don’t want to torment another woman.

*Sigh

But probably my biggest area of pride involved magical thinking. In the twisted arena of my mind, I alone upheld my husband. My prayers, my support, my love and affection were all that stood between him and a quick slide into a cesspool of sin. Please note the irony of this and try not to snicker.

2) Admit you were abused

Most abused women don’t know they’re abused. Unlike their tormenter, they don’t like the idea of victimhood. Recognizing the abuse as a living, vital force doing damage in their home means facing up to some very uncomfortable truths.

Along with the above, there’s always the possibility you heard someone stupid define abuse and believed them. Like. . . oh, I don’t know. . . your abuser maybe? Other folks put themselves on record all the time—pastors, mouthy internet preachers, female enablers and just about anyone else who doesn’t want to deal with something that won’t stop wiggling long enough to get a fork through it.

The anti-husband is the leading authority on abuse (just ask him.) He’s quick to tell anyone who’ll listen that he was abused all his life by every woman he ever encountered starting with his mother, his sister, his step sister, every ex-girlfriend, his one and only spouse whom he loved and sacrificed for on a daily basis, the women he worked with, women he encountered in the grocery store and naturally, every black woman he ever encountered because “everyone knows they all have attitude.”

One of these days I simply must tackle some random  black woman on the street and beg for lessons.

Sometimes it takes another person to help here. For me it was, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. Eye-opening doesn’t come close. There’s so much highlighter in my copy, its simpler to just quote what didn’t get marked.

3) Talk!

In theory, this is simple. Find someone, tell them what’s going on. But in practice, chose carefully. You want someone who’ll make comforting clucky noises and reserve judgment. Most of us, no matter how isolated, still know at least one friend we can talk to.  Or, it might be someone we never considered before (see number one above)—someone judged as too liberal, too feminist, too worldly, too something. Remember your definition of  ‘too’ probably got twisted by the one trying to keep you quiet.  When the proverbial crap hit the fan, I was surprised who came to my aid and more than shocked at those who didn’t. You won’t know until you start talking.

I kept quiet for thirty-one years. Thirty-stinkin’-one years. I talked to my mother almost every day and she found out six weeks before I made a run for it.  My best friend,  known over thirty five years, heard the first tiny glimmers of this story five months before I left. She was so shocked she asked for a few days to digest before replying. (When she did call back, bless her heart, she said, I should have known, all the signs were there but you kept saying everything was okay.) Naturally when I left, the anti-husband  blamed her for our break up, calling her a bitter, man-hating divorced woman. Divorced is the only true adjective in that sentence (kisses Darla.)

4) Counselors are our friends

Not all counselors are created equal. I suggest avoiding counselors from any particular sect and finding a non-denominational group that offers help on a sliding scale.

I go to a male Christian counselor. (Shocking, I know.) He’s a professional therapist with a PhD in psychiatry and counseling, not a mouthpiece for any particular denomination. We talk about things like why I have panic attacks in the hardware store, not whether or not I did the right thing in the eyes of God by leaving my husband.

Which leads to–

5) Grow a backbone

Doesn’t have to be a big one, a tiny spine will do. Just say to yourself right now, “It’s before my own Master that I stand or fall.” (Romans 14:4)

Lock twenty-five religious people in a room, write ‘divorce’ on the chalkboard and watch the fur fly. Remember,  one day you will answer to one Person and one Person only.  Read books, study, realize you and your children have to live with your decision, not them.  And remember, your heavenly Father loves you.

Someday, I’m going to get to my Father’s arms and throw myself right in. I’ve already confessed every known transgression and dozens I’m probably not responsible for and of one thing I am assured–His welcome.

Please wrestle the Almighty with open mind and  heart until you can say the same.

6) Nurture Creativity

A personal favorite and the intended topic before my belly button became so dadgum mesmerizing. . .

We’ll get to this next time. Maybe I’ll show you the fishies I painted yesterday~

Recommended: Abuse 101 from A Cry for Justice

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Excellent article over at A Cry for Justice titled,” Abuse 101- The Mentality and Tactics of Abuse.” I’d love to just quote the whole thing but check out these gems, then go read every single word on their website. Seriously, Pastor Pippen and Ms. Woods do such a wonderful job defining domestic abuse its like water in the desert. Someone in ministry finally gets it.

Abuse is fundamentally a mentality of entitlement and superiority which uses many different tactics to obtain and enforce the power and control the abuser deems himself entitled to. The abuser judges himself to be absolutely justified in using whatever tactics are necessary to ensure this power and control over his victim.

and another…

The abuser is the center of his universe. He views his victims as objects owned by him to serve him. A person with no empathy nor conscience obviously will objectify others – make them into a kind of non-human – and this makes it easier for him to use and abuse them. Because his worldview is one of entitlement and superiority, he minimizes, excuses, and blames others for the wicked things he says and does to his victim. After all, in his evaluation of the thing, he is absolutely justified in doing “what a man has to do” to keep his property in line.

To be understood? Makes me want to cry. Thank you both, so very much.

So This Week, I’m Going to Hell?

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Just when I think maybe the anti-husband’s had just a wee change of heart, along comes an email to set my weary mind at ease.

As I said earlier, I limit contact for various reasons but since our finances are still joined at the hip, I can’t break contact completely. A two hundred dollar purchase loomed on the near  horizon. The charge would show up on his records, the man will rave.  Predictable but not so much fun..

So I spent an entire day in prayer before crafting a letter outlining the state of our finances here and expenses looming on the horizon. An entire day, people. Let’s take a moment to pause and think calmly about this ~

(Selah)

The kids and I aren’t exactly living it up over here. A brave, dear sister took us in. I slept on a cot in her bedroom for the first six months.  She doesn’t ask for rent, I haven’t been able to help  beyond food and toiletries. I help out with housework and laundry, she provided a safe place for the little’s to finish school.

The man has an excellent income. He also is in control of a business which brings in cash—lots of cash—every month. A business I started myself and ran until I had to run. Which means, a two hundred dollar curriculum purchase  is not going to break anyone. Sounds like whining I know but seriously? When you get to a point you’d rather live in a box under a bridge, things like money just don’t matter so much.

So to recap: Pray all day, get peace, write email mentioning the coming purchase as well as carefully outlining what’s coming up in the next few months (you know, wild extravagances like teeth cleaning and a mammogram) hit send and get doomed to the pits of a fiery hell.

Seriously.

The response came in three parts. If he could just practice a little brevity, but I digress.

Part 1—We’re broke, it’s your fault because you left.

Part 2—I’ve changed. But I would’ve been a perfect saint all these years if it weren’t for you therefore the reason I had to change is your fault. God has spoken to me about many things listed here in this email which proceeds straight from the Lips of Heaven. You should do a word study. I have. Because I’m holy and no way you are because you left.

Part 3—I now proclaim myself a prophet with divine unction and God is telling me, rightthisverymoment, that you had better repent! repent! repent! as your mortal and immortal soul is in danger. (Extra exclamation marks edited out, your welcome.)

Lots of love, the anti-husband

Sigh.

Printed out, this email would be pages and pages, full of half-formed sound bites I highly suspect he heard elsewhere as the man hasn’t had an original thought since he took to pickling his brain in earnest five years ago. Did it bother me? Oh yeah. I hate this sort of throw-everything-in the road and hope-something-sticks type thing.

I spent most of that evening trying to decide exactly what he was trying to get me to forget which is not my favorite activity. In the back of my mind the thought keeps ringing, I have to answer this. I cannot let this jerk say I’ve left Christ by leaving his sorry butt. Another part of my brain said to shut up, hold still, let it go.

Deep breaths.

I realized pretty quick what all the hubbub was about. A quick search of the online bank statement shows he gave a very large portion of savings away to his church, I’m guessing to buy the position he now occupies as a teacher of the men’s Bible study. Whatever. I’m certainly not arguing about money sent to his church even if I do think they’re nuts to let some guy in off the street and put him in ministry less than three months later. I’ll buy the curriculum, get my breasts flattened and be the bigger person.

And then the forward arrived, a lovely little study on repentance he’d received in his inbox *that very morning* which of course confirmed  God had both spoken to him of my need to repent and confirmed his new found role as prophet. The fact this devotional was written to Men Only and spoke specifically of the way men struggle with Pride and Stubbornness  seemed to miss his notice. It did not miss mine, however, as I tend to be observant like that.

Which is when I realized I had to answer or I’d get more email altar calls than a pants-wearing Pentecostal.

Time to set a boundary. Good gravy I hate that word. Mostly because I’m so very bad at setting them.

My response, both short and eloquent follows (although I cannot claim divine inspiration as only one person per email volley is allowed that luxury and I had no daily devotionals arrive in my inbox to back up said claim):

“I did not leave my first love (Jesus), I left a man who abused his wife and family. My immortal soul is not in danger.  I sent an email on finances and  I don’t appreciate your dooming me to everlasting darkness. In all this time, I’ve never once pulled the God card on  you and the Lord above knows I could so cut it out already.”

His response was swift. Paraphrased of course: “God did so tell me to say that and I know because I ‘felt compelled.’ None of this is really my fault because you left me twenty years ago in spirit by pulling away in love and affection.”

So the hell of the last twenty years is my fault because—after ten years of verbal/ emotional abuse, threats of violence and  bullying—I pulled away? Even if the man were a perfect angel (which he wasn’t, trust) your wife pulls away and you get a free pass to blast the living crap out of both her and your children for two more decades?

Now *that* hurt.

I would say something witty and clever now but nothing comes to mind. This is the sort of twisted thinking that has me in counseling, trying  like thunder to sift through the wreckage.

And while the first email might have been laughable in its verbosity interspersed with delusions of grandeur, this salvo helped me remember why I finally gave up hope for a marriage that died way before the funeral.