Monday, March 30, 2015

To the Ones Still There

I do not consider myself strong, an inspiration, or even brave.  I see my flaws, my weaknesses, and my inability to protect my children when they were so young.  I see the moments of today, when I struggle to get to work on time, trying to not snap at little girls who love to stay in bed almost as much as I do, tired from rushing from one activity to the next.  I see a young girl, naive enough to believe in fairy tales, while knowing deep down something was not quite right.  Wanting more than anything that happily ever after that  every little girl dreams about.  Wanting the picture perfect family, who overcame the odds, in spite of the “rough patches.”  The life-changing testimony of a family God restored and rebuilt.  Instead, I have my story.  The one handcrafted for me by an almighty God who knew just what I would need and how I would get there.  How God did change my life, but only by removing parts of it.   

Since I posted a few weeks ago, several friends have asked if I have regrets.  Things I wish I could go back and do differently.  You may wonder the same thing.  The answer will still remain a solid, “No.”  I don’t have regrets.  I have God-given purpose.  I have lessons learned.  I have faith that is solid, knowing a God who is always faithful.  I have three precious little girls who call me, “Momma.” And sometimes, “Mom?  Mooommmm…  MOMMA!!” Even in those frustrating moments, maybe because of those moments, I have no regrets.  

My choices led me down a dark, scary path.  Not the path I thought I was choosing, but the path that ultimately led me into the love filled arms of my Savior.  I got married at 18.  I became a mom at 19, then again at 23 and again at 24.  It wasn’t easy,  nor would it be a path I would recommend.  But, it was the path I walked.  Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  As desperately as I despise parts of where I have been, I would not be the person I am today without every single moment of where I was. 

With all of that said, my heart has been so overwhelmed in the last month with the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of women are still living the life I used to call mine.  Those women, standing at the kitchen sink, dreading the promises of the man she married.  Wondering if this might be the night he finally finishes her off.  Or makes her wish for the hundredth time he’d just hurry up and do it.  

This post is for her.  Them.  The thousands of women still there.  Still in oppression.  Still terrified of what tonight might hold.

My dear, sweet, friend…  You don’t know me, but I know you.  I know your fears.  Your worries.  Your panicked thoughts.  I have heard the words he says to you.  The lies he tells you to keep you quiet and afraid.  I have felt his hands hit my face.  His fists pummel by legs, arms, whatever might have been in his path.  The threats that you will not make it out alive.  That your kids will be hurt.  That no one will believe you.  And above all else, that no one will ever want you or treat you as good as he does. 

You work so hard to keep everything absolutely perfect.  The way he likes his socks matched, his shirts hung, and his shoes lined up.  The way he wants YOU to do it, because he doesn’t think you love him otherwise.  But, it’s just never enough.  There is always something you forget.  

Like the time dinner burned on the stove.  Or the other day when the rug didn’t get vacuumed before he got home, cheerios still sitting there from this afternoon’s snack.  Days like today, when you just don’t feel like you can possibly keep up with the ever growing lists of demands.  Sweet girls…  You will never be enough to make him happy.  He loves you, as best as he knows how, I am sure.  But, the love he shows isn’t genuine love.  It is conditional.  Based on what you can do for him.  How you make him look; how you make him feel.  You are worth more.  

When I finally decided I couldn’t live in this environment any longer, that I would never be enough, the grace of God was there, went before me.  My husband left our home.  Not without a fight, though.  It has been a long hard battle, that ensued daily for months, and even occasionally now.  What I wished I could have understood was that his abuse wouldn’t end that day.  That for months that turned into a year after, he would continue to inflict his emotional hell on my life.  That on the days he doesn't speak negatively over me, if I do not guard my mind, I will do it for him.  That it would take years to undo what he had done.  But, that I would really survive.  Thrive.  Move on.  Know how good belly laughs felt.  Or the giggles of little girls who aren’t afraid to laugh or play because Daddy is home. 

The first few months were the toughest.  I was so afraid of him, mostly because I couldn’t tell people the reason the marriage had ended.  He had promised so many times he would kill me or take the kids and run with them if I told anyone, that I didn’t want to do anything to make him want to keep that promise.  I filed for divorce after the phone calls became worse and the texts were so frequent and harassing that I just kept my phone off until I needed to make a call.  He would turn up in places he knew I’d be.  While the police were informed, they thought I was crazy.  Reminding me they couldn’t stop him from driving on the road by my house, or shopping at the grocery store at the same time.  But, with each “coincidental” meeting, the underlying message was that I would never truly be free.  That he would always be there.  That he was always waiting for me to have my guard down, so he could follow through.  

Yet, here I am.  Finding the courage to publicly speak out against him.  What I enabled him to do.  What I refused to let him do, and he forced me to do anyway.  The 8 years of hell that was my marriage.  What I learned through this experience is that these abusers are just flat out liars.  They tell us we are fat.  That we are ugly.  That no one would want a woman who had mothered three kids, whose stretch marks disgusted him.  That we aren’t even worth the time, but that we just needed someone to feel sorry for us.  That we will never be capable of taking care of ourselves, because we are just that stupid.   

These men aren’t our heroes.  They aren’t our knight in shining armor.  They really aren’t men at all.  But, they do have the power to teach us the most valuable lessons of our lives.

They have taught us what we can withstand.  That when we don’t think we are able to keep moving forward, it just takes one step at a time.  That we are far stronger than we ever thought possible.  That his words will always echo through my mind, but only I have the power to allow them to cause death in my life.  The thing they didn’t plan on  teaching us is that their constant attacks have trained us to do battle.  To become mighty warriors.  That we can survive without them.  That we do not need their put downs, in fact, we thrive without them.  We do not need them to teach our children how a woman should be treated.  By leaving, we teach our children what we are worth - what they are worth.  By healing, recovering, and fighting for ourselves, we prove to ourselves and everyone watching that we were created for greatness.  Then, one afternoon, four years later, you sit back, and look at words you typed on a screen, and finally realize you did it.  You survived.  You’re still in one piece.  And you have the rest of your life ahead of you.  

“Always remember : You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” 

~ Christopher Robin

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Overcoming the Darkness

Today, I write this post to say NO MORE.  
No more fear.  No more silence.  No more shame.  
No more bruises. No more intimidation. No more cowering.  
No more excuses for his behavior.  
I will speak up for myself.  
I will speak up for those who have not yet found their voice.  
I will speak for the women who don’t even think they are allowed to have a voice. 
I will speak for those women, reading now, who may be wondering... 

How is it that I know what you're going through?

How do I understand your story; your pain, your fears, your secrets, your lives?
Because, my dear sweet woman, I was you.  For almost 10 years of my life, I lived where you are today. 
Until about two weeks ago, I had kept specific parts of my life and marriage secret.  Hidden from view.  I was ashamed of the dark places my heart, mind and body had been exposed to.  I protected my abuser from the stares, the glances, and the judgment because he was the one who took me into the deep abyss of a darkness I knew I would never escape.  I protected myself from the shame, the guilt, and the literal hell I lived in.  For his comfort.  For your comfort.  Sometimes even for my own comfort, I kept my secrets.  But no more.

Almost two weeks ago, outrage was sparked in my heart.  Nightmares were plaguing my sleep.  His voice was suddenly waking me up, when that voice had been silent for months.  Memories were being triggered by movie trailers (50 Shades of Grey), excited talk among friends and strangers of this incredible “love” story, and the buzz of controversy it was creating.  And I knew I had finally had enough.  
I reached out to an incredible advocate for women and children who have been harmed by abusive relationships.  She offered me an amazing opportunity.  She presented a platform (her blog) in which to anonymously take a stand.  And I suddenly had a way to speak out against this abuser, without having to fear him knowing these were my words. If I wrote anonymously, I could prevent him from finding out I had exposed those shameful, humiliating secrets, and as always, he’d figure out how to make me pay for the obvious disrespect.  
Well, this incredible thing happened when I found the courage to share my story on her blog.  People actually supported me.  Readers encouraged me.  They prayed for me.  They didn’t defend or protect him, but stood beside me.  Possibly, for the first time, they realized abuse happens in so many marriages, in so many different forms and degrees.  
For many readers, this post, my story, opened their eyes and hearts -- maybe for the first time -- to something they didn’t know happened in marriage.  They shared, they cried, they talked.  
To those readers, thank you.  From the very bottom of my heart, thank you.  Your words were powerful.  You empowered me.  You encouraged me.  You supported me.  You gave me courage to write this post today.  For the first time in my history with him, my abuser no longer seems in control, powerful, or someone to be feared.  
So many years of my life were spent waiting, watching, worrying.  I feared what would happen if I spoke up; knowing what would happen if I didn’t.  Living each moment of my life as though I could change the outcome, if only I loved enough....  If I cleaned enough....  If I cooked enough....  If I weighed just enough....  If I could keep the kids quiet enough....  If only dinner was perfect enough....  If I could just be enough.  
My abuser and I separated, then divorced, exactly four years, one month, and twelve days ago.  Some days, this feels like a vast amount of time has passed.  Other days, it feels like only yesterday.  My journey has not been what I thought it would be. Actually, it has been infinitely more difficult.  Many days, I have even wondered if I made the right choice because, even now, I am tired of fighting. Oh, certainly I feel weary of fighting him; but more than that is the internal war of trying to convince myself I am worth fighting for.  Each day, I have to look at my face in the mirror and see the invisible emotional scars left inside.  Knowing that the person I was for so many years doesn’t have to be the person I am today encourages me to never give up.  Because my past is just my past.  It is not today.  Thank God, it will never again be my tomorrow.
Abuse is not solely physical. Thank God, people are beginning to realize that it is also emotional and verbal; with the abuser using his words to terrify you, keep you under his control, and make you afraid to stand up to him.  Affection, tender touches, conversation (the silent treatment) and his attention can be withheld, making you cautious as to what you do or say.  Your own emotions are used against you, making you feel as though you are absolutely insane.  These forms of abuse leave no physical scars, but, in my experience, have the longest lasting effect.  Physical abuse is the most recognized abuse, leaving marks, bruises or wounds.  The pain is real.  You feel it over and over again until the evidence leaves your body.  Then, there is the hidden secret of sexual abuse.... Where “No” doesn’t mean  no....  Where you are manipulated, coerced, and even forced to do things you would never have imagined doing.  Sex is used against you. It's another weapon in the abuser’s bag of tricks.  
Whether withheld, coerced, or forced; sexual abuse is real.  And no one wants to think about any of it.  It hurts.  And the hurt continues for survivors even after they escape the abuse because healing is a painful process made even more difficult by silence, shame, and the fear that you will be viewed by anyone as ... disgusting. Oh, how we hate to be associated with that word!
My beautiful friend, please hear me when I tell you that you can love him and still walk away.  Your love will never be enough to fix him.  You can try.  You can give it every single part of your being.  You can try harder.  Do more.  Be better.  And, you still can’t fix him.  
Strong, mighty warrior, the journey ahead isn’t an easy one.  You will have to fight.  You will fight when you feel weak.  You will fight when you feel strong.  You will fight harder than you have ever fought in your entire  life.  
And you will speak! 
By speaking you will be empowered,  supported, encouraged.  But, sweet, sweet girl, you will have to speak.  And you, brave soul, will overcome. 
You may be wondering.... How do I know this?  How can I be so sure?  I must not understand…. I don’t fully understand the hurt....  The fear....  Just how far he’s gone.  I don’t understand how his family stands behind him....  Allows him to make excuses for the bruises, manipulate his way out of trouble, convince you not to go to the police again....  But, the reality is, I do understand.  
The words I am speaking to you in this post have been spoken to me by other survivors. And as I write these words to you, my readers, I speak them into my own life -- again and again -- as well. 
You will overcome.  Today can be the day.  Today can be the day you say NO MORE.  No more name calling.  No more manipulating.  No more “accidental” black eyes.  No more intimidating texts.  No more walking on egg shells.  No more make-up to cover the bruises.  No more long sleeves or pants in the summer.  No more.  Because, today, you will find you have someone in your corner.  
You aren’t alone, because there are SO many of us who are in this with you.  We want you to know we stand behind you - not him.  We believe you - not him.  We fight with you, so you don’t fight alone.  When you are ready, we are here.    
Through the process of these recent days (since I anonymously shared more of my story), the years I spent in hell suddenly seemed like they could be so much more.  They could be a platform of hope.  Of courage.  Of freedom.  Of change.  
Maybe you are one of the women I walked through this for.  So that in my story, you can find the courage to take your first steps to freedom.  Life doesn’t have to be this way.  You can not only be a survivor, but you can thrive in the midst of it.  
I can never thank the owner of "Miss Oblivious thinks out loud...." enough.  Not only did Shari help me gain enough confidence to leave my abuser and not go back all those years ago, she gave me the courage to speak out presently.  I am no longer afraid of what will happen.  I am no longer fearful of saying I am the survivor who wrote this post or the woman who lived this pain.... Or  the once oppressed soul who survived to claim freedom!
Please, take another ten minutes to read my story if you haven't read it yet.  Clicking above will take you to Shari's blog, where my story was first shared anonymously.  After reading, please read this post, written on this blog last week.  It discusses the power your words hold and how a victim feels when she hears them.  There's power in your support.  There's empowerment in your love and compassion.  The power you can give a victim by simply listening....  
Hear her story.  Help her reveal the darkness and yet not be ashamed.  
Thank you from the very bottom of my heart for reading this post.  I would appreciate your support in sharing it, as abusers don’t stop until they can no longer find someone to abuse.  
Speak up.  Take a stand.  Please, don’t look away.  For so many today, this is reality.  There is no escape, no exiting the browser window to get away.  
Respect her enough to help her escape.  Give her your voice until she finds her own. 

******If you, or someone you know, are the victim of domestic abuse, you can get out.  There are many resources available to you, regardless of what you have been told.  This site shows you of safe places you can call or go to to receive help, especially if you are in immediate danger.  There are hotlines you can call for advice, support and information.  This is another site that shows companies that will help you, or offer you a safe place.   You are not in this alone.  If I can leave, you can, too. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

I Will Stand

“You rescued me and I will stand and Sing…  I am a child of God.” – No Longer Slaves, Bethel Music

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.                    – Proverbs 31:8


I am just not a fighter.  In the fight or flight scenario, I will choose flight every single time.  To stay and fight terrifies me.  And deep down, more times than not, I convince myself I am not capable of winning.  So, flight it is.  Later on, I will ridicule myself, reminding myself I am worth standing up for.  But, rarely do I actually stand. 

But, today, right this moment, I stand.  I stand for me.  I stand for my daughters, my mother, and my sisters.  My friends and my coworkers.  But, especially, I stand for the women who are too afraid to.  I will stand tall.  I will stand firm.  While I may sway, I may tremble, I will stand. 

My story is not an easy one.  It is not one I will share today, or tomorrow, or maybe not even next week or next year.  But, this is the thing… it is my story.  Whether it is viewed as brave, tragic, beautiful, sad, disgusting or courageous, it is still my story.   I will stand for it, because it is a story worth listening to.  Just like yours.  Just like hers. 

When one has the courage, the bravery, the sheer insanity of sharing her story, pause before you react.  Think.  Be compassionate.  Be considerate.   Could you have shared her story if it was your story instead? 

A brilliant woman by the name of Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”  As a woman, I find it difficult to fit in, and even more difficult to share a part of whom I am.  What will they think?  Will they still like me?  Will they even listen and care?  But, still, this teeny part wants to share, wants to try.

This fear of acceptance and approval is normal.  Everyone faces it, to some extent.  But what about those who are required to remain silent?  For years, I lived in an oppressive environment.  I was forced to remain silent for the well-being of my children.  For the safety of myself.  For the comfort of my abuser. 

When someone has the courage, the prevailing, triumphing courage, to share her story, understand it may not be easy to hear.  It may not be pleasing to your ears.  Or your heart.  It may cause you pain.  But, I promise, the words were even harder to say.  It took this woman weeks, months or years to choose to speak out.  Please, give her the respect to hear her, to just listen.  When someone shares her story, she is illuminating the darkness in her world, so that she can be freed.  Help her find freedom.  Fighting for freedom isn’t a one person job, it takes an army. 

For an abuse victim, especially those emotionally or verbally abused, the power of a person’s word is immeasurable.  She has been forced to live in silence, conditioned to not question words, actions or intent.  Taught to believe the words spoken to her or about her are truth.  When a victim makes the decision to leave, it can take months or even years before she can gain the courage to say, “I was abused.”  And when she does, listen.  Though the actions of the abuser are disgusting, horrid, and incomprehensible, listen to her.  Speaking those words provide healing, inclusion, and empower her to stay away from her abuser.  She needs your support. 

When I speak about the things that happened to me, I often relive them.  It’s like I am back in that moment, hearing his voice, feeling his hand strike my skin, and/or fearing his next outburst.  Those feelings of guilt, shame and fear are never too far beneath the surface.  Very few will ever have a face to face conversation about the (almost) decade I spent with my abuser, because it is harder for me to say the words than it is for you to hear them.  I will not only fear his retribution, I will fear you.  Your thoughts, your concerns, your judgment, but most of all, I fear losing you as an important person in my world. 

The question I have had to answer the most is, “If it was that bad, why did you stay for so long?” First, when I hear that, I hear disbelief.  If it was that bad…  Trust me, it was that bad, probably worse.  Those things I recounted to you are only those things I feel least shame and guilt over.  Don’t discredit me.  I will shut down, for that is how he conditioned me.  Second, I stay because speaking out is almost impossible.  Our society is geared to protect the abuser, not the abused.  When you call and report the abuse, the police can’t offer you protection from him immediately.  He has more than likely threatened you or your children or your family if you leave, and in my case, even if I just told someone what he was doing. 

So, you stay.  And you stay quiet.  People have a hard time understanding evil.  A dear friend of mine told me she knew evil existed.  She just didn’t know evil existed like that; that you see evil on the news that happens to other people.  Just not to the people you know and love.   And that part makes listening difficult.  You don’t want to know, because it hurts.  What you don’t understand is that by saying It’s too hard to read, listen to, or understand because what he did was disgusting,” what the victim hears is that her story, her life, her reality disgusts you.  You don’t see the person for who she is, you see the violent actions of the abuser.  And for your comfort, for your peace of mind, you ask her to be quiet, because it is too hard to visualize her, that one you love, in that situation.  You give the abuser power over her, because she cannot speak out.  You feel that because you don’t see how you can make a difference, it would be easier to not hear about it. She knows the weight and impact painful words cause.  So, she stays quiet.  And you look away, pretending it never happened. 

What society fails to realize is that when we empower victims to speak out, to stand up, to become independent from their abuser, we empower them to become survivors of abuse.  I will say it slightly different.  The more power we give these victims, the easier it is for them to recover.  They will make the transition from victim of abuse to survivor of abuse so much easier.  We educate these women.  We empower them.  We support and encourage them.  And, when we do...  They realize, many for the first time in their lives, they are worth something to someone.  We will link arms with them.  Support them.  Protect them.  But, sadly, this is not yet the case.  We still turn our eyes away from their suffering, telling them silently that their story isn’t a story worth believing, their lives aren’t worth protecting and they are not valued enough to be a woman worth fighting for.  Because it is just too hard to read.  Too hard to listen.  Too hard to imagine.  It’s disgusting. 

This is their reality.  They are scared.  They truly believe they aren’t worth fighting for, that no one cares.  That no one will ever, under any circumstance, want them.  These women think they will never be good enough.  That their lives are just another life.  When you look away uncomfortably, you confirm what they have been brainwashed to believe.  They are just a number, another domestic violence statistic.  Why is it that victims don’t get the courage to leave until after the 35th attack?  Yes, you read that right.  It takes the average victim 35 attacks from the one she loves and trusts before she will finally get the courage to leave. And, that’s if he doesn’t kill her first.  No, that is not overdramatic.  It is the truth. 

I left my abuser, and went back to him.  Why?  Because I believed his words were true.  No one heard me.  No one empowered me.  My story was taboo.  No one wanted to think about a 21-year-old mom of a beautiful little girl being strangled in her closet, and most definitely not the power they just gave the abuser by telling her to go back.  It was too painful for them to stomach that a person could actually do that.  Instead of standing with the victim, they oppressed the victim, sentencing her back to hell. 

But, really, what can you do?  When she talks, listen.  She won’t leave right away, but she needs to know you are an ally, not an enemy.  Don’t tell her she’s crazy.  He’s already convinced her of that.  Maintain confidentiality.  She needs people she can trust.  And, should she ever tell you about anything that he did to her, do not look away.  Do not pity her.  Do not look at her with sad eyes.  Instead, tell her you love her.  That you are there for her, and will listen anytime she needs to talk.  And then, mean it.  She is a fighter.  She is a warrior, in battle for her life and the lives of her children.  Give her confidence.  Tell her she is brave, that she is strong, and she can do this and that you support her no matter what.  You see, she probably hasn’t heard those words in a long time.  He keeps her weak, on edge, and defenseless against his attacks.  He doesn’t fight fair, for he is a coward.  Empower her.  Encourage her.  Help her plan.  Pray with her.  Be her strength when she doesn’t have any left. 

But, please, remember the power your words have in her life.  Use them wisely.