intimate partner violence

It Can’t Happen to Me

I am quite simply the poster child for “This Can’t Happen to Me.”  I was raised in a stable Christian home.  My mom and dad just recently celebrated 50 years of marriage.  Both of my parents were raised in loving Christian homes, and so on and so forth for generations.  I am the baby of the family, the only girl.  I have two older brothers.  One was my partner in crime, while the other was more like a father figure.  In high school, I was the president of the debate team and floor captain of the volleyball team.  I was in all honors courses and got pretty much straight A’s.

Can you see the picture of the perfect middle class upbringing?  Of course, my childhood was far from perfect, but it definitely doesn’t fit most people’s picture of where an abuse victim would come from.  Yet, it did happen to me.

In college, I began dating a Christian guy, from a good Christian home.  After just two dates he wanted a commitment.  It was every girl’s dream, right?!  He was so attentive and made an effort to listen to the music I liked, study with me, take me dancing, and hang out with my friends.  We spent every possible free moment together.  When he felt we didn’t get to spend enough time together between school and both of us having part time jobs, I quit my job.  He kept his.  We’d see another girl walking down the street, and he’d suggest I wear an outfit like hers.  Suddenly he didn’t like to dance, and he didn’t like me dancing with anyone else.  I stopped going to the places I had gone before I met him.  I spent less and less time with my friends.

Over time things escalated even more.  My internal warning bells would start to go off.  But he said he loved me, so I would ignore them.  No one had ever paid this much attention to me before.  I was caught between feeling loved by him and being suffocated by him.  I desperately wanted him to love me, and I found myself willing to do what I had to do to keep him loving me.

The name calling got worse.  He called me things I wouldn’t call my worst enemy.  He constantly insisted that I wasn’t a normal girl.  A normal girl would do this or that, especially if it related to sex.  When he’d get extremely frustrated, he’d put his fist through the wall.  His jealousy became all consuming.

After 2 years of dating, he asked me to marry him, and I said yes.  A year later, we were married.  A month later, he hit me for the first time.

It didn’t matter that I had come from a Christian home or not.  It didn’t matter whether I came from a stable home environment or not.  It didn’t matter that I came from a middle class family in a good community or not.  It still happened to me.  It didn’t matter that I managed to complete 2 Bachelor’s degrees and a Master’s degree.  It didn’t matter that I was the bread winner for our family.  It didn’t matter that we had the perfect house in the perfect suburban neighborhood and 2 kids.  It still happened to me.

It happened to me because I did not know any better.  Dating violence was not something that happened to someone like me.  If it didn’t happen to girls like me, then why should I be aware of it?  Why should I know what the warning signs were?  Why should I be taught what constituted a healthy relationship versus an unhealthy one?  I went to Sunday school.  I went to youth group every Sunday.  Didn’t I understand just how much God loved me?  Didn’t I find myself worthy of that love?  Why would I let someone abuse me if I did?

If I had known all of these things, this wouldn’t have happened to me. 

Since they heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, their blood will be on their own head. If they had heeded the warning, they would have saved themselves.

Ezekiel 33:5

Hindsight is truly 20/20.  So let me give you the benefit of my 20/20 vision.  You do need to worry about dating violence.  Intimate partner violence can affect you, your child, your friend, your neighbor or your parent.

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His Glory is Revealed

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When Christians gather, the devil goes to work.  When we gather in the name of Christ, the power of Christ of present.  The Kingdom of God grows in strength and numbers, and the constant battle of good and evil is claimed for the side of good.
So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present.  1 Corinthians 5:4
The devil reigns where Christ does not, so he works hard to destroy those that gather in the name of Christ.  He launches attacks  to weaken our faith in Christ by turning us on each other.  If we allow the devil to be successful in undermining our efforts to grow the Kingdom, the constant battle will be claimed for evil.
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.   1 Peter 5:8 
I experienced an attack while preparing for a gathering in Nashville a few years ago.  I had been asked to share my story and rejoice in the works of God in the stories of others.   In the week leading up to the event, my anxiety and stress began to overwhelm me.  I was unable to truly pinpoint what had me worried.  Retaliation from ex was definitely a concern.  Although I’ve been very open about my story, this event offered a much larger platform.  I felt the immense pressure the impact my story could have.  I had the opportunity to reach thousands of women in abusive situations.  I shuddered under the weight of being the one called to deliver Christ’s message of hope and healing to these women.  But I had to let them know that they were not alone,  I could show them there was a way out.  My mind swirled with self doubt and worry.  I reached out for support as the negative tape of self loathing tried to play over and over in my head.
My stress level was escalated as this full time working single mom struggled to find care for my boys who were not yet back in school.  Our district had (and still does have) the latest start date in our area.  This meant all the day camps had closed for the summer.   The inevitable answer was  me to work from home, while walking the tightrope of trying to make my boss, my client, and my children happy.
As the tightening in my throat increased, I continued to take one step at a time… right into a size 7 high top.  The aftermath was a very large, dark purple and black toe that the doctor insisted required x-rays.  Hours of waiting room waiting with two rambunctious boys later, much to the orthopedic’s surprise, there was no fracture.  Surely my week was looking up!
By Wednesday though, it appeared to not be the case.  My daycare dilemma for the boys had not been resolved and arrangements for a sitter that evening fell through.  Unwilling to miss an opportunity to enjoy dinner, dancing and fireworks while sailing around Lake Michigan with my co-workers, I brought the boys along.  As spouses and families had been invited to attend, they were not the only children on board and soon they had made fast friends and were off enjoying themselves.  The ever distracted mommy in me did my best to keep tabs on them.  While peering through a window into the lower cabin to check on them, I slipped and hit the deck hard.  Praise God there was really no one around to see; just my friend and the boat staff.  Despite a wicked bruise on my arm and a blow to my pride, I was fine.  At this point I should probably allow that I can’t really give the devil credit for the bruised toe and arm.  Anyone who knows me in the least bit, knows I’m an accident waiting to happen.  But these clumsy moments definitely weren’t helping my overall state of mind.
 As the boat docked at Navy Pier, and we all were saying our good-byes, my world stood still for a minute or two.  A highly intoxicated co-worker began to verbally assault my oldest son.  After threatening him multiple times that he would throw him overboard, he insisted on a hug.  So frightened by what was happening,  my son refused the hug.  At which point, I intervened and asked the boys to head down the stairs to exit the boat.  However, before they could make it down the stairs, my co-worker ran after them and started cursing at my oldest son, specifically calling him by name.
I just stood there.  I didn’t do a thing.  I didn’t stop it.  I didn’t say anything.  I simply watched in silence.
When his tirade was finally over, I ran down the stairs after the boys, and we left.
I don’t know what hurts most.  The fact that I stood there and let it happen, or the fact that it happened at all.  No attack could have been deeper, more sliced to the bone than watching my son be assaulted.  No shame more relentless than facing the reality that I had not stopped it.
Do you see the lengths the devil will go to?  He tried to break me, but he did not succeed.  He tried to silence me once again through the fear of abuse. but I was not silenced.
My first day in Nashville, I sat down on a bus beside a man whose story is no easier than mine.  He looked straight into my heart and spoke this verse.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.    1 Peter 4:12-13 12
The DVD made that weekend is powerful, and my story is right there exactly as God scripted it.
I’m chalking this battle up to good.
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They cried out to the Lord, and He saved them…

This past weekend, I had the honor of presenting two workshops on God’s Design for Healthy Relationships at the Ignite Shout youth conference in Des Moines, Iowa.  Encouraged by my story, one by one, others came forward and shared their stories with me.  One of those brave enough to step into the light shared the following story with me.

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I am the oldest of four kids. My family home life was awesome.  My mom and dad didn’t have a lot, but we had a great family.  Mom and dad were always in love and showing us how love should be.  We never, ever saw them fight, just love each other. It was great.

But there was always tension between my mom and I.  I was the result of a teen pregnancy.  My parents married a week after graduating high school.  Maybe my mom felt that I had taken away her youth.

I was always happy as a child, always smiling – you would never see me sad.  But when it came to boys – I was scared to death.  I dated in high school but was a “goody”.  Out of all the boys I dated in high school, I only kissed one.  I remember in high school I said “I would never get a divorce”.  I have now been divorced 3 times.  It kills me to even see that number. It leaves a huge pit in my stomach.  Here is my story..

After my first kiss broke my heart in college, I met husband number 1.  It was destined to be a disaster from the very start.  He was the first person that I gave myself to.  Even then I wasn’t sure if he was the one I should marry, we graduated from college and got engaged on my 20th birthday.

The day after we were married a letter came in the mail for him from a woman that he had been seeing – I had NO IDEA!!!! My stomach was just in knots, but I kept smiling and looking to God for help. I got pregnant about 4 months into marriage.  After I miscarried, I got pregnant again immediately.  When my daughter was born, he and his mother bought boy clothes and boy diapers.  He already knew we had a girl, but really wanted a boy. The first few months of my daughter’s life were hell.  She and I slept on the couch because he didn’t want her to hear her screaming.  She was born in January, and he was gone by August.  Despite having left us, he continued to insert himself in our lives.  He would threaten me, sometimes with a gun.  He hit me, just for trying to clean out his closet.  Over the years, he quit coming around, and my daughter refuses to have contact with him.

I knew my second husband for a few years before we started dating.  He moved in right away.  I didn’t ask him to, he just did.  I really loved him.  We were married for 8 years, and had 2 children. He was a military guy.  The first years were pretty good, but we frequently fought about money.  When I was pregnant with my second daughter, he needed help becoming aroused as he wasn’t attracted to me.  He turned to pornography.  As the years went by, he withdrew further from me and more and more “magazines” showed up.  Eventually, I discovered other women’s phone numbers and naked pictures.  He would frequent strip clubs with his buddies.  I felt so dirty.   That year for Valentines Day, he bought me porn.  I turned to God for refuge.  I started spending a lot of time at my church.  I would just go there and play the piano for hours.  However, I began to doubt God during this time as my second marriage was falling apart.  I yelled at God.  But he stayed with me, and I continued to pray.

While I was still married to my second husband, I met husband number 3 while out with a friend.  He pursued me against my wishes and despite knowing I was married.  It felt good to have someone want me.  I filed for divorce and started seeing him.  I felt so low for moving so fast into a relationship with him, but I felt as though I had too. After a few months, my kids and I moved in with him.  We were married a year later after I became pregnant.  I miscarried the day before the wedding.  He was good to me and the kids at first, although we fought constantly.  I got pregnant again.  The day I had my fourth child, he said I needed to get pregnant again.  I said no.  My doctor said no. He kept after me.

That year I lost my job due to cuts at the company.  He was angry at me for losing my job, and everything started to turn bad, really, really bad.  The kids and I started attending church again even though he hated it.  I loved it and so did the kids.  I felt God’s presence every time I walked through the doors.  I started playing the piano and then started singing.  I spent a lot of time in church. But things at home just got worse.  He constantly criticized and belittled me.  I continued to take it.  I thought that I deserved it.  When I started working with the youth group, he would accuse me of having an affair.  Then he began accusing me of having affairs with every guy I saw or ever talked about.  He called me a preacher woman that was a hypocrite. I started to believe it.  I hated myself so much.

He started abusing the children.  He took their Christmas presents and broke each one in front of them.  He broke so many things.  He would be remorseful but find a way to put the blame on me. We were married 12 years.  The kids were afraid of him.  Anything that brought me happiness he tried to ruin, and when that didn’t work, he would try and hurt them. When my oldest daughter graduated from high school, she informed me she had saved up $2000 for us to leave.  She had started saving when she was 16, by working 3 jobs.  And yet I stayed.  I didn’t want to fail another marriage.

I eventually hit bottom and I lay down on the floor of my church and cried out for God to help me.  My husband always reminded me he had a gun, so I hid it and the shells leaving only the case and left.  My last straw was watching him hold my son against the wall by placing his hands around my son’s throat.

We moved out the week of Easter, into a one bedroom across the street from the church.  I felt safe for the first time.  When the kids fell asleep I would run across the street and pray – for love – for peace – for happiness.

I have since found and married my best friend.  Our kids, all six of them, love each other like they were all meant to be brothers and sisters.  We will have been married a year in April.  He is a man of faith, a man who loves God before his family and me.  We pray together, worship together, and the day we were married, the whole world felt like it was at peace.  I know that God is blessing me.

I try hard to look at my past, but it burns my eyes.  I have to remember that it is part of what has shaped me into the woman that I have become. I know that God has amazing plans for me and for my husband. We are both led to help serve.  I want my story to help others.  I want to use my voice to make a difference.

Then they cried out to the Lord because of their problems.
And he saved them from their troubles.
He brought them out of the deepest darkness.
He broke their chains off.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his faithful love.
Let them give thanks for the miracles he does for his people.

Psalm 107:13-15 (NIRV)

To the Next One

On my way home from being a Matthew West groupie this weekend, I found my ex-husband’s new fiancee on my heart.  Over the past year or so that they have been together, I have struggled with the desire to warn her.  But I have resigned myself to the fact that she needs to be the one to figure it out, as did I.  She may enlist my help or someone else’s at some point in time, and she may not.   I have done my best to let go of any responsibility I feel for her.  However, as I thought of her on my drive back to Chicago-land, I wondered what I would say to her if ever given the opportunity.  Never did I dream that the opportunity would come much closer to being reality as I learned of the events that transpired over the weekend while I was away.

It took less than 2 minutes in the car with the boys after picking them up from their father on Sunday to know that something was wrong.  I will not go in to details as they are not necessary, but I find myself with a stronger desire than ever to reach out to the fiancee.  This is my letter to her.


Dear <Fiancee>,

I know you do not want to hear anything I might have to say.  But this is not about me or you.  It is about those two beautiful boys, that I hope you have come to care about over the past year or so.  What they went through on Saturday night is not something any child should have to go through.  The worst part is it’s not the first time they have been subjected to such an event, and that is a burden I get to live with everyday.

Hearing the commotion and certainly seeing their father in that state was most certainly frightening  But what truly scared them was the thought that their father might be taken away that night.  They did not know what was happening; whether they would simply be left alone; or if they too would be taken by the police.  I cannot imagine how scary that was for them to go through.

The following day brought about all the uncertainty their father’s actions had created.  They didn’t know if daddy was still getting married.  They didn’t know if daddy still had a place to live.  Furthermore, they were asked to withhold the events of the prior night from their mother, a burden a child should not be expected to bear.

I have been through this.  I have been where you are standing.  I do not fault you for wanting to defend him or for choosing to stay with him.  I stayed for 13 years; 10 after the first time he hit me; 3 after he struck me in the head with a lamp and was arrested for battery.  Even though I was terrified enough to call for help, I didn’t press charges.  In fact, I begged the police not to take him.  I did not appear in court for the hearing, allowing the state filed charges to be dropped.

They see their therapist tomorrow.  If he recommends what I believe he will recommend, then I will file a motion to modify the custody agreement.  You don’t have to support my decision. But I am asking you to be stronger than I was.  I need you to be honest; to tell the truth when asked about what happened Saturday night; to be willing to tell that to whoever it may be when the time comes.  If you don’t, the boys will be forced to testify.

Most likely you do not think what happened was domestic violence, but it was.

Any person who physically assaults (which includes but is not limited to; hitting, choking, kicking, shoving, raping, destruction of personal property), threatens, harasses, exploits, neglects, deprives, intimidates dependents, stalks, or interferes with the personal liberty of another family or household member has broken Illinois Domestic Violence law.

Illinois also recognizes the impact to children who witness acts of domestic violence.

The witnessing of domestic violence can be auditory, visual, or inferred, including cases in which the child perceives the aftermath of violence, such as physical injuries to family members or damage to property. Children who witness domestic violence can suffer severe emotional and developmental difficulties that are similar to those of children who are direct victims of abuse.

I left <my ex> not for me, but for the boys.  I need you to do this for them.  They can not continue to be subjected to such trauma.  As easy as it might be to dismiss, it truly has a detrimental effect on them.  No child should live in fear of their father.

That is all I ask.

Sincerely,

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Sleep Deprivation

While we were married, my husband wanted to live 100% by the rule “don’t let the sun go down on your anger”.  If I begged him for sleep, he would accuse me of loving sleep more than him.  He found it as an attack on him if I asked to stop arguing so I could sleep.

Night time was absolutely the worst time of day.  I was terrified to go to bed.  In the end I would do almost everything I could to avoid entering the bedroom.  It always started with some expectation of sex or some sexual favor.  If he was not “satisfied” and sometimes even if he was, the torment would continue throughout the night.  On average, 2 nights a week he would keep me awake until the wee hours of the morning.

On nights I would fall asleep before him, he would wake me up.  He would slam his hand down on the bed, jarring me awake.  Some times he would accuse me of doing things to myself (think touching myself).  Other times he would accuse me of cheating on him, because he’d just dreamt that I had.  I learned to not move.  I learned to barely breathe.  I could lie like that for hours waiting to be sure he was truly asleep.

 He came home late from hanging out at the bar with his friends and was disgusted that I was reading a book.  He had clearly drunk more than usual and lashed out immediately.  Upon entering the bedroom he blurted out a very profane comment towards me, which in turn set off a whole chain of unpleasant events.  He lay down to go to sleep, but was soon unsatisfied with the situation and got back up.  He picked up the humidifier and threw it across the room, smashing it against the wall.  He then stormed out, slamming the door.  I didn’t move.  I barely even took a breath.  I continued to lie frozen in fear.

A while later he came back into the room and ripped the covers off of me, proceeding to throw them onto the floor to soak up the water from the humidifier he had smashed.  He left again.  Terrified I remained frozen.  Another block of time elapsed before he once again returned.  He laid my wedding rings on the bed next to me.  His special way of letting me know I had forgotten to put them on before bed.  Then he was gone again.

I have no idea how long I remained frozen, afraid to move even a muscle.  Eventually I found my courage and quietly slipped out of bed to make sure he was asleep.  I hung up the drenched duvet, got towels to mop up the rest of the water, found a blanket, and finally settled in to try and get some sleep.

In the morning it was as if nothing had ever happened.

 I was not even aware I was being abused by being kept awake at night.  It took me months of counseling before I ever understood that sleep deprivation was a form of abuse.  An often easily dismissed form of abuse, I now clearly see it as a very effective form of torture.  In fact in most states consider purposeful, repeated, and unnecessary sleep deprivation to be a form of physical abuse.  The United Nations defines sleep deprivation as torture.  “The forced deprivation of someone’s necessary amount of sleep has been used in the interrogation of terrorist suspects to make them more amenable to providing information or confessions.”1

The effects of consistent loss of sleep are severe and can make it harder for someone to free themselves from the cycle of abuse.  WebMD reports that the lack of sleep has 10 surprising effects2:

  1. It causes accidents.
  2. It impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving.
  3. It can lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes,
  4. It kills your sex drive.
  5. It can contribute to the symptoms of depression.
  6. It ages your skin.
  7. It makes you forgetful.
  8. It can make you gain weight.
  9. It may increase risk of death.
  10. It impairs judgment.

Yet as a society we find it much easier to protest the use of sleep deprivation as an interrogation tactic by the US military, than to acknowledge the abuse happening in our own neighborhoods.  It’s time we opened our eyes to the reality that the same tactics we so readily abhor, when brought to light by the main stream media, are in fact being carried out in bedrooms across the world.

Sources:

  1. http://terrorism.about.com/od/s/g/SleepDeprive.htm
  2. http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/10-surprising-results

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Letter to My Mother-in-Law

This is the letter I wrote to my now former mother-in-law, in the days immediately following my escape from my abusive marriage.


Dear <MIL>,

I’ve been slapped, punched, shoved, pushed to the ground, called every name in the book, spit on, restrained from even leaving a room, had things thrown at me and the children, had my children withheld from me and ripped out of my arms, deprived of sleep, and controlled to the point of no longer knowing my own thoughts. Simple things such as spending my time reading a book as opposed to watching TV could set him off.

Of course he is always sorry and promises to change. But with each promise of change the behavior always returns. It could be months or a even a year but the angry and abusive behavior always returned. As time went on I knew where the lines were, where the boundaries were and I stopped crossing over. All the while having no boundaries in my life. I could not even close the door to use the bathroom.

I have held all of this inside for years and I’ve lived in resentment as I watched <him> time and time again turn to his support system while I lived in isolation bottling everything in. Afraid and ashamed to tell anyone and most of all afraid that it would ruin eveyones feelings of <him> if they knew. While no one acknowledged my feelings or the pain I was going through.

After I became strong enough to finally turn to someone for help I was still unable to talk about the abuse. Instead I sought help for the fact that I was so depressed after years of emotional abuse that I couldn’t even walk without physical pain. All the while assuring <him> after each therapy session that it was not about him but was about me, just so he’d let me keep going. Still he ridiculed and tormented me, expecting me to recite word for word everything I talked about in my sessions and threatening me that if I talked they’d take the children away from us. And it worked. I didn’t open up about the abuse for months in therapy.

And even after gaining that support, I could not find the courage to end the abuse. It wasn’t until I watched <him> reduce <my son> to the point of hitting himself, wanting to kill himself and curling up in a fetal position, crying his eyes out, hiding in his classroom. All because <my son> forgot his backpack.

The wounds are deep and will take time to heal. But they will heal, and we are finally in a position to get the care and support we need.

The boys love their dad and need him as a strong presence in their life. But they need a dad who can truly love them unconditionally every minute of every day. And love them in a way that protects them and nurtures them, builds them up and inspires them to be good people who respect others and see those who are different from them as equals not inferiors. A dad that teaches them that you do not have to resort to violence or threats of violence in order to solve problems. <He> can be that dad, but he needs help and the courage to accept true responsibility for his actions. And that also will take time and a williness to change. We all pray that time will come.

I have no intention of hurting anyone. But it’s time I started no longer allowing anyone to hurt me.

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