Category Archives: Emotional Abuse

Take My Memories. . . Please

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Sometimes the little divots in your heart smack a body upside the head, taking on weight once you come to an understanding with yourself.

Occasionally, someone From Today asks what my family looked like Back Then. Readers here probably get a picture of the typical dysfunctional family–  black nail polish, foaming at the mouth. Nothing could be further from the truth. We kept our tails tucked in our britches, thanks much.

In fact, we looked like the ideal conservative Christian family unit, just busting over with family values and stuff. Those who knew us back in the day sometimes have difficulty believing my story strictly based on the pristine appearance we trotted about in public.

That was my doing. The beast played along.

Well dressed and respectful–I saw to it, even if it meant beans for a week. I held my husband’s hand in public (when he let me). I called him baby. My husband called me sweetheart but only when anyone walked within earshot. Our home was always clean, the yard mowed, the bread homemade. If the wife didn’t laugh at the husband’s jokes, so what? That dear man was the stronghold of the family, clearly. The wife seemed mighty uptight. If the kids jumped when dad raised his voice, just showed how well he’d trained the kiddies.

Hard to admit now, but I wanted my husband’s approval and affection. If he only gave it with others looking, so be it. It was a game we played. I could sit close, hold his hand and, for a few moments at least, pretend everything was okay. We both knew the rules. When company backed out of the driveway, the atmosphere changed and we returned to our corners for the duration.

Red Flags Waving

There were signs of course if  a body knew where to look. The constant jokes about my cooking or cleaning or general lack of intelligence might have been a clue. The digs taken at the children’s expense, burrowing word by word into their softest parts carried an edge that bordered on the masochistic. So while some things were more obvious than others, nothing stood out and grabbed you by the throat. Except for one small little detail.

Our home looked like something from a magazine shoot. Sounds good, right? The insidious nature of this  lies not in the presence of possessions, but in their absence. Our home was devoid of personality.

The word memento comes from the same root as memory and therein lies the problem. Some of us do not want our memories. Not something you’d notice really, not at first. I sure did. I stripped that house with a vengeance, regularly and on purpose. Visiting the home of friends and family, I wondered how they could abide all those pictures and ticket stubs and trophies lying about. Never crossed my mind there might be a reason behind the sterility of my decorating scheme.

Hindsight and All That

Lying here in my single bed, roommate muttering to herself in the dark, I finally stopped hyperventilating long enough to understand the lack of family pictures on the walls of our home. For years, I said they interfered with the decorating. Now the truth haunts me—the sight of all those innocent little faces, the soft eyes so sweet and trusting. . . hurt too stinking much, even then.

What loving mother doesn’t  want baby pictures on the wall? Yeah, that would be me. In fact, about ten years ago, I stopped taking photos altogether. That wasn’t always the case.

When my firstborn arrived, I traded in the instamatic for a high quality Nikon 35mm, single lens reflex camera. I checked books out of the library and played with a few rolls of film until I could take reasonably high quality photographs. The oldest children are well chronicled.

When coupons arrived for the local photo studio, I dressed the babies in fluffy lace and/or cowboy chic and prayed they’d cooperate. In no time, a whole lineup of professionally framed sixteen by twenties lined the space over the living room couch. A huge portrait—very nice actually—of myself and the beast graced the space over our bed. Keepsakes, mementos and memories packed our tiny little home, for better or worse. And then we moved.

I remember standing in the much larger living room with the beamed ceiling and massively empty walls, looking through the box filled with framed faces and carefully folding the cardboard box flaps back down. I tucked the whole thing in a walk-in closet and said I’d hang the pictures another day, when I had time, when I found the level. I never did. About this time, the studio portraits stopped. Too expensive, even with  a coupon. My camera became misplaced. Film cost too much. Processing was ridiculous. Eventually, a single picture of each child made its way into the dining room. And then we moved again.

By now, photos were digital. I had a few  hidden on my computer (taken by others and graciously shared).  The kids sure noticed. My lack of motherly sentiment annoyed the kids and became fodder for an ongoing battle with the beast as he used this as another example of my lack of involvement in family life.

“Where are the pictures mama? Why aren’t there any of me?

“Someday. I’m a little busy at the moment and when I get around to it, I’ll frame a few and. . .”

Never happened. The single box of photos I’d taken back in the day with the fancy new camera went to the attic. The frames filled with portrait studio photos from the first decade of marriage sat taped inside the same ratty box.

I told myself I just wasn’t the sentimental type. When we all get to Glory, we won’t be taking our scrapbooks with us now will we? Might as well not get too attached to the things of this world. I could over spiritualize anything given enough time and rationalization.

When did pictures become too painful?

Sore Hearts

All I know is this– I still cannot look at the pictures of my babies without recalling the pain. How wrong everything was. How twisted their father became. I try. I really, really try. But I cannot separate the two because the two are joined somehow in my heart. He hurt me, he hurt them. I look and remember.

I recall where we were when each photo was taken. I recall the blow up before and after. I recall the humiliation attached to each image. I can’t escape. I remember how he hurt my babies, I remember their little faces, I recall how impotent I felt, the stunned disbelief that any father would treat  his own kids this way.

On quiet days, I sometimes pulled out the photo albums and peeked through. I carefully tucked the wayward thoughts inside and looked—really looked—at those beautiful little faces. I remember kissing those cheeks and running my fingers through the downy soft hair. I remember how they smelled after a bath and the soft promise of tiny feet that never touched the ground. But I can’t have the pictures out where a stray glance might bring on the bleeding all over again.

Some Things Never Change

When I left, I took no pictures, no scrapbooks, not one album. A normal mother would’ve chosen those first over clothes or books. I said I’d be back but lying to myself is wearing thin these days. I’ve had a dozen chances to retrieve the box in the closet and every time, something else of more vital importance found its way into the backseat—the immunization records, my real estate license, the cat toys.

I want my photos back. Someday I intend to stand toe-to- toe with the beast and demand their return. They belong to me and my children and their children after. That’s the way it is, the way it should be.

I’m just not sure I’ll ever want to see them again.

Doom and Other Realities of the Abused Woman

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Today I’m remembering a life filled with disasters that never happened. For years, I lived with a sense of impending doom, usually of a mundane variety—a car just waiting for the most inopportune moment to break down. Kids plotting through the night hours  to break something (arms or legs usually).

Occasionally, I cranked up the wattage. The ringing phone meant  news someone crashed, burned, perished and/or drowned in a two inch mud puddle. Why else would anyone call? I could run the entire scenario through my brain in the twenty seconds it took to find the cordless phone.

Besides the ongoing drama of an apocalypse that never quite materialized, I also carried a suspicion that any unexpected beneficial happening would be followed hard on by an equal and opposite negative event. An unexpected five hundred dollar check in the mail meant the washing machine was about to go out and the replacement would cost six hundred easy. (The Good Lord was especially generous that way.) To ice the cupcake, I told everyone of His provision and testified to the goodness of the Almighty.

Life was out to get me, I was screwed. I made Debbie Downer look like Pollyanna. I thought this was normal. Hard to live when you’re busy watching for the bus with your name on the bumper.

A-n-y Minute Now. . .

One day, whilest walking in the neighborhood, I spent a quiet  moment reflecting on the mercies of God in a horrible world. My oldest was in Africa—the first kidlet to fly the nest as well as the country. As I trotted about waiting for the sky to fall, I remembered the Father’s assurances to my heart that this trip was okay—to sign the release forms, give my blessing and let go. Everything would be fine.

I expected a call any moment with news of my son’s departure from this earth. The phone bulged the back pocket just in case, ensuring I’d know first. I couldn’t bear the idea of hearing the news from  beast.

I was resigned. My blood pressure hovered around the rupture-an-artery mark.

Images of the funeral played through my mind unbidden. I chose the songs we’d play. I tried to imagine the tears, the grief. I comforted myself with my Lord’s promise and thought how truly things would be fine because this child would be released from his suffering here in the world and would surely be better off in heaven. I replayed the Father’s assurances, knowing I’d press on, everything would eventually be fine. I knew God was faithful.

And right there on that road, I heard Someone I knew pretty dadgum well speaking straight to my heart.

“Is that really who you think I Am?”

Excuse me?

I Have an Enemy and it isn’t God.

And then without a word, my spirit flooded with the understanding of the goodness of a loving Father who tenderly cares for His children. I remembered times of actual sorrow and saw those compared side-by-side with the expectation of disasters that never materialized. I recalled the tone, the touch, the gentle fingerprints all over His loving care and how He held my heart in His hand. I saw How He prepared me for each transition and contrasted that to the gloom and doom of my everyday experience.

I saw—all at once—just  how twisted my thinking had become.

Never once had it occurred to me that I was being robbed.

Robbed of joy.

Robbed of peace of mind.

Robbed of blessing of every variety—spiritual, financial, interpersonal.

John 10:10 “The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).”

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]”

Matthew 10:29-31 “Are not two little sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s leave (consent) and notice. But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, then; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Here’s the thing: For years, I did not know my enemy. I was living with the devil. Every good gift, every blessing was tainted and/or stolen. That tends to happen when you’re sleeping with someone who’d rather see you dead.

The fear, the torment, the pain had to go someplace. The more I denied my marriage was the problem, the harder I kept  trying to find a slot to file the overflowing animosity pointed squarely in my direction like a laser sighted missile.

The bible says that God is good and I believed that. Somehow, I blended the reality of my hell on earth with a religious explanation that made no sense whatsoever. I lived every day with someone who  both hated me and had no natural affection for his own offspring. Looking back, it’s not so surprising really that I thought my world was coming to an end.

Denial is a Funny, Funny Thing

Let me assure you—I don’t live in that cesspool  any longer. Once I recognized the enemy for who—and where—he was, I got the message pretty fast. Getting out of a toxic environment improved my outlook instantly. My kids tell me I look fifteen years younger. Looking through the pictures, I believe they’re right.

With every moment, this remarkable joy grows sweeter. It takes practice to learn to walk in freedom. Sometimes I still feel the pull of old ways of seeing both my God and this fallen world. But these days, I’m assured I can trust the future to the One who tends to sparrows.

When and if sorrow comes–as it does to all of us walking here below– I rest knowing Who will rock me in His arms.

Deal Breakers and Monkey Love

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Women talk to me. Not sure why. Maybe it’s this strange tendency to laugh inappropriately during confessional sessions. More likely,  my Christian pedigree worked the magic– pastor’s daughter, pastor’s granddaughter, pastor’s great-granddaughter. We attended my father’s church for years, my household appeared to be in order, therefore surely I’m an expert on the ways of matrimony. The whole ‘older women instructing the younger’ kicked in somewhere around thirty-five despite the fact I didn’t have a swinging clue.

I did not cultivate bleeding hearts by the front door, they just appeared right and left. Quite possibly the teaching in our church contributed—just as politics or law enforcement tends to attract a certain personality type, the heavy emphasis on the wife’s submission  and patriarchal headship attracted men with an abusive streak, . I’m going to go with that theory and believe our churches were top-heavy with abusive men because the atmosphere made them feel all warm and snuggly rather than the cynical viewpoint that most men are abusive.

The Blind Shall See

For years, I did not understand what I was hearing. I spent lots of time waving my hands about and squealing. I tried to offer help but generally said something lame like, ‘my husband can be pretty difficult at times too.” or “when I figure this out, I’ll write a book and we’ll move to Reno.” They thought I was joking. Silly women.

Once upon a time, I was a highly social person. When I left, only a couple of good friends remained, both  blessed by the anti-husband’s seal of approval. Nice ladies who I loved dearly, but the fact remains, when I broke ranks, I lost their companionship.

Let’s take a moment while I feel sorry for myself a little.

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During those years of informal counseling sessions, I did learn to recognize the difference between a difficult man and an impossible one. The difficult  might be proud or stubborn or shortsighted, but once they  recognized the unhappy wife in their kitchen,  they tried to make amends in some fashion, no matter how awkwardly. These wives would come back later, grab me in church with a twinkly eyeball thing that made my nerves scrape together and say, “Thank you *so* much Sister  Ida for praying with me the other day. Can you believe? Melvin prayed about it and already things are improving! God is so good!”

This always annoyed the crap out of me. For one thing, I couldn’t follow my own advice and expect a hallelujah chorus and, for another, how come God kept answering their prayers for marital bliss while the fish in my own kitchen continued to rot the airwaves? And another-nother thing. . . you know what kind of advice I gave? “Have you told your husband how you feel about that? Go home and talk to the man for heaven’s sake. He isn’t psychic.”

Despite my nasty inclination toward self pity,  I realized these women didn’t want instant perfection. They wanted to feel heard. They wanted to know their husbands cared enough to listen and respond and make a few adjustments in the right direction. (We are, of course, talking about women who actually came for advice, not the really scary women who  generally hung out by the alter offering advice no one ask for.)

Meanwhile, Back on Topic. . .

Yes, I was a stellar counselor to the weak and weary. This constituted the extent of my helpfulness. Still the hurting arrived on my doorstep whilst I continued to complain to the Almighty.

Looking back, I’m just now starting to see God’s plan.  I was learning to discern abuse in others even though I could not see the same patterns acted out in my own living room. Please explain this if you can because I do not have a clue. I’m going to blame the fog of confusion the beast kept wrapped about my mind with his constant stream of crazy-making. I do know the fog lifted only after I refused to listen to him any longer. Still, once my eyes pried open, many things snapped into focus and those  years of hearing story after story made all the difference.

The Turning Point

I was beginning to see a different breed of husband, tyrannical in nature, taking no prisoners, determined to have its own way at any cost. These men were nothing like the flawed yet somewhat reasonable men who took their wives feelings into consideration (upon realizing their wives had feelings.) No, the tyrants refused all compromise. Backed in a corner, they might give ground  only to extract a heavy price later. Their wives came away feeling worse with every encounter. They looked beat. They looked unloved.

Another distinction—the wives of these bullies showed up at my doorstep confused. No way they could articulate their ongoing troubles. If they did manage to come up with a complaint or two, they also supplied a half dozen reasons why nothing suggested would ever help. The scary part?  They were correct and I knew it. These women felt trapped—the rock and a hard place, the double bind, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

In contrast, the Normals had a really good idea what they wanted. They had actual, concrete problems. He spends too much money. He won’t help around the house. He looks at other women.

Problems loomed. Ignorance abounded. These ladies might or might not take advice. They might leave the living room and go do something stupid like running off with the pool boy. They might take  advice and discover they should’ve shelled out the cash for a trained counselor in the first place. They might be miserable, unhappy, unfulfilled and sexually frustrated but they were not held prisoner in confusion and fear.

The Big Picture

Here’s how I came to picture the difference:

In a normal marriage, you’ve got two imperfect people sitting on a sofa. They fuss, they smile, they smooch, they fuss some more.  They conflict. They scoot away from each other toward opposite ends of the sofa. Maybe one goes and gets someone else to come sit on their lap. The other may walk away, or the offending spouse may leave with their new squeeze. Or they may kick the third party off, learn to scoot closer to each other and eventually smooch some more.

In an abusive marriage, you’ve got two imperfect people sitting on a sofa. Right smack in between, you’ve got a five hundred pound orangutan holding hands with the husband. The monkey makes sure his boyfriend always gets his way. The man may scream, holler and yell, or make snide remarks and sulk and brood. He may get some girl on his lap and smooch her while the wife tries to peek around the monkey. Every time she thinks she sees something, the monkey smacks her good. Every time she tries to say something, the monkey smacks her good. Every time she tries to address something, the monkey smacks her good.

The monkey is a deal breaker. You cannot reason with a monkey. You can’t fix a broken marriage as long as that monkey is on the sofa.

Deal breakers come in other forms—drug abuse, alcoholism, mental illness.  The important point here? To realize that advice given to Normals will not apply to Monkey Marriages. Books written for conflict resolution, counseling, marital advice, sex education will not work.  So the big step—the very first, very big step is–Name the monkey.

The First Step is Always the Toughest

If there’s an orangutan on your sofa, you are being abused. Or you’re Steve Erwin’s wife. The first is more likely.

In my experience, this is the most difficult step to freedom. Stop allowing the one abusing you to define abuse. You must discern. There are objective criteria. There are books out there to help you understand. Ultimately, you must stare that monkey down and say its name.

If you  identify abuse, you need to understand a few things to get  free. You are dealing with a different animal  entirely. Stop focusing on your mistakes, your issues. Stop taking blame for everything wrong in your marriage.

Of course you make mistakes. Of course you aren’t perfect, who claimed you were anyway? Of course you have issues from your childhood.

None of that can be addressed with someone whopping at your head so stop trying.

You are never, ever going to make that threesome work.