This past weekend my husband texted me, asking me if I wanted to take one of the dogs. He doesn’t contact me often. In fact, by and large he leaves me alone. He said he was getting rid of the dog if I didn’t take it. I only took one of the three dogs when I left, and can ill afford another one. But, I couldn’t bear the thought my little dog sitting in the pound, so I agreed. When my husband texts me I, it always seems like I should feel something. Loathing, fear, nauseated, disgust, something. I mostly just feel strangely disassociated. Like I’m looking down on my life, watching myself interact with my husband. While we were negotiating how to hand off the dog, he stated that he would leave the dog on the porch and wrote, “I’m not comfortable having you come in and not ready to see you. I hope you understand”. It struck me as ironic. He was not comfortable letting me in the house? He was not ready to see me?
I think back to the last few weeks we were together. I can still hear him screaming at me, see the look on his face when he shoved me. I can see him showing me the large knife he had just bought. I picture myself walking around the corner and seeing him brandishing the knife in front of my daughter’s face, laughing. I can hear him talking disparagingly about my son. I know I shouldn’t give him a second thought, but lately I have been experiencing flashbacks. They come out of nowhere, when I’m not even thinking about him. I wonder if he remembers how he treated me and if he rationalizes it away. I have so many hurtful memories that it’s hard to remember the good ones. I can’t think of one holiday or vacation that wasn’t marred by an angry outburst. Yet, even as these memories come back to me, it’s almost like recalling someone else’s memories. They seem so far removed from my life now.
My husband would routinely call me horrible names. He would say that he felt like punching “someone” when he was angry with me. He would threaten me with divorce and tell me that I needed to leave. He’d always take it back and would sometimes even apologize. But, after the one thousand three hundred and forty-sixth time, I found it hard to believe that he “didn’t mean it”. I was so hurt and confused and I didn’t know where to turn for help. At the women’s bible study I attended some years back, they stressed the importance of not talking negatively or complaining about your husband. Despite this, I reached out to one of the ladies in my women’s bible study for help. She and her husband were acquainted with my husband. I asked her if her husband would reach out to my mine about my husband’s abusive behavior towards me. She later called me back and told me that it was important that her husband be personally asked by my husband before he would intervene. I wondered if the people in the Philippines where they went to evangelize had specifically asked them to come. I guess that rule only applies if you personally know someone. Otherwise, it’s acceptable to reach out to people who don’t specifically invite you to. In the end, she texted me that she was “praying for EVERYONE”.
This attitude towards abuse is further perpetuated by the conservative Christian community in other ways, too. This week I read a blog about the Christian home school community and how fear is perpetuated among them about any type of government agency. I can tell you that this is true in the conservative Christian community at large. As I read her story, I realized that all those years in my abusive marriage, I was afraid to tell people what was going on. I was terrified that the authorities would come and take my children away from me. Not because my kids were being abused, but because I believed that Child Protective Services (CPS) hatred of Christians would cloud their judgment. I was also taught that public schools were not to be trusted and would report little things to CPS, who would then blow them out of proportion. At one particular small church my husband and I attended for five years, every family home schooled except two of us. The evils of public school were a hot topic of conversation.
On top of this fear of authority, I didn’t even fully realize what abuse was. I remember when I first started going to my counselor. He patiently asked me questions that were designed to make me aware of my husband’s abusive behavior. When I started to understand the scope of how I was deceived about the abuse I had endured for fifteen years, I felt hurt and betrayed. I had been to two other Christian counselors who diminished my experiences. I had counseled with pastors who told my husband that he needed to go to church, read the bible and pray. I had been told by other women that I needed to pray for my husband. Only one pastor over the years told me that I needed to leave my husband for a minimum of six months. I left and then the Christian counselor we went to told me to move back. He said that it was difficult to work on a marriage if we weren’t living together. I naively believed him and did so. After all, he was a professional and knew better than me, right?
I realized today that I have been seeing my counselor for ten months. That’s almost one year. Yet, I feel like I’ve just begun to come out of my fog. I spend a lot of time on blogs by women who are survivors of spousal abuse. So many of them are the victims, not only of their husband, but of their church. Sadly, spiritual abuse and domestic abuse often go hand in hand in Christian circles. I often wonder if there’s any hope that conservative Christian churches will step up to the plate on the issue of domestic abuse. They seem to be more passionate about being right, above all else. I used to be that way, too. If nothing else, I’m grateful that my experiences have given me compassion for others. It would be nice, though, to walk into a church and be on the receiving end of that compassion. I still have hope that it will happen. I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.