I received an unexpected phone call last week. It was from one of the ladies that I sit next to at church. Bev called to find out if everything was okay because she hadn’t seen me in a couple of weeks. I was so shocked that I didn’t know how to reply. Before I knew it, I blurted out that I was low on money and didn’t want to use the gas. I’ve never been good at coming up with excuses on the fly. Instead, I’m usually embarrassingly honest. Not exactly casual conversation with someone you barely know. To her benefit, she recovered quickly and told me that if I ever needed a ride, to call her and she’d pick me up. This was very generous give the fact that she lives in the opposite direction from me in relation to the church. She then invited me to a get together at one of the ladies’ home in a couple of weeks. And, of course, she offered to pick me up for that, too. I was flabbergasted. Of course, there’s no way I’d make her drive in the opposite direction just to pick me up. It’s ironic that a stranger is so willing to reach out to me while the women I went to church with for over a year remain silent.
My reaction to her generosity made me think about how hard it is for me to accept the kindness of others. My husband would often scornfully tell me, “You’re such a victim!” And, he would become very upset if I accepted any help from other people. When my mom or sister would buy my kids clothes, he would make disparaging remarks about me, “You work full-time and you can’t buy your own kids clothes?” On top of that, he not only questioned my motives, but just about everyone we can into contact with. Everything was a conspiracy, everyone had an ulterior motive and everyone had a clandestine agenda. I always felt like he projected his own character onto others. Perhaps it was his way of rationalizing his own behavior, by believing that everyone else thought the same as him and acted like him behind closed doors. Even now, I feel like I have somehow been manipulative when someone is kind to me. And I feel that I am doing something wrong if I accept help from others. Indeed, sometimes I lay in bed wondering if we’ll have enough food to last until my next paycheck. The thought has crossed my mind that there are food pantries around to go to for help. But, I just can’t bring myself to do it. Part of it, I admit, is pride. And partly out of fear.
I’m fearful, I suppose, that if I turn to someone for help they will think that there are others more worthy of help. I remember how scared I was as my husband’s verbal and psychological abuse was escalating. Every night when I went to bed, I wondered if I’d wake up the next morning. I turned to the local domestic abuse organization for help getting myself and my kids away from my husband. But, I didn’t meet their criteria for help. I wasn’t poor enough, wasn’t unemployed enough and my kids weren’t young enough. My church didn’t think I met the criteria for help, either. As a married woman, I was supposed to be dependent on my husband for help. To their credit, my pastor did make an attempt to help. He had a man from the church call me to possibly rent a couple of rooms at his house. The said man called me to grill me about the specifics of my situation to determine if I had grounds to leave my husband. He was very military and very stern. I remember thinking to myself, “Minerva, just keep your sarcasm to yourself and don’t say what you’re thinking.” I wanted to say so many things so bad. Unfortunately, I have a mischievous, sarcastic streak a mile wide. I really just wanted to tell him to take his rooms and shove them where the sun don’t shine. But, I knew I needed to get my kids away from my husband so I kept my mouth shut. Thankfully, we ended the conversation without a decision, and he never called me back the next time I called him. I had the feeling that it would have been like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Last week I realized how deep seated my fear is of being wrongfully judged. A co-worker told my boss that I had done something. When my boss came to my cubicle to reprimand me about it, I told her that it wasn’t true. But I could tell by the look on her face that she didn’t believe me. It felt like I was being abused by my husband all over again. So, today, I went to confront the co-worker about it. I told him that I hadn’t done anything and it was wrong of him to tell my boss something that couldn’t be substantiated. He stubbornly refused to back down. As I stood at his desk, I realized that he was manipulating me and making me feel as if I was being unfair by standing up for myself. Like I was crazy for even saying anything. I finally walked away and felt so unresolved about it. Later, my “next door neighbor” from the next cubicle over came over to talk to me. I ended up telling her what had happened and actually cried over it. I felt so helpless that I let him twist my thoughts and doubt my own feelings. It didn’t help me feel any better that I cried in front of my co-worker. She was very gracious about it and empathized with me. I just felt awkward that I has shared with her and uncomfortable with the fact that she was being nice to me. The lines are so blurred between how much of my feelings are legitimately mine and how much are still reactions to my husband’s manipulations.
I’m slowly, but surely coming out of the fog of my husband’s ideology. My opinion of myself has been so indoctrinated by my husband’s influence for so many years. He would mold my perception of myself into something that was untrue, but personally advantageous to himself. As long as he had me convinced that I could not get along in life without him, I was stuck. I prayed for so many years for God to change my husband. For a miracle that would transform my husband into a caring, loving husband. Women from my church would tell me that I needed to pray for my husband. I read books about “The Power of a Praying Wife”. I don’t know how it happened, but I slowly began to question that the answer was to stay in my abusive situation and just pray for it to change. As I read about domestic abuse, I started to doubt what I had been taught my whole life about the roles of husbands and wives. Somehow along the way, I had lost who I was in an effort to “submit” to my husband. I began to realize that God valued me as my own person, not just as an extension of my husband. And, He did, indeed, finally answer my prayers. Not by changing my husband, but by changing me. He helped me to recognize that He gave me the strength to save myself.