I was 19 and in my final year of school in England. He came to our church youth group with a couple of his friends. All of them were airmen from a nearby American air force base. They looked like men compared to the spotty specimens of male teenagers at our youth group and that was exciting. Finally some christian men who looked datable !! I was raised in a conservative and fundamentalist christian household and church. This was a very sheltered environment. I was not prepared for a world in which a christian was as capable of deceit as anyone else – I was raised to trust people who called themselves followers of Jesus. I was in a for a rude awakening!
We dated and he was charming; a Southern American boy who knew how to treat a lady. I felt like a princess. All that and he loved the Lord too! It seemed to good to be true. Well it was! We married and three days later I was living in Up State New York on the air-force base which was his new posting. It was the first time I had left home and here I was – before the internet and Skype, or cheap phone cards for international calls had been invented – so far from home that apart from a letter once a week I had no contact with my family. His abuse started on the wedding night but I was so naive I didn’t know that was what it was. By the time we had arrived in America and moved into our first home on the base I was so confused by his treatment of me that my head was spinning like a top. The only way I could make sense of the fact that a person could change so much in such a short time was to personalize it and to assume that I had done or said something to make him angry with me. I could not, however, remember what that might be!
I began to walk on eggshells around him as his change of mood was unpredictable – and yet, at the same time, he was the only person I knew on the whole continent. I was depending on him for socialization and comfort. On my blog www.thetiltedroom.com in the post titled THE CONTORTIONIST, I describe the process by which gradually this abusive man manipulated me into a distorted perspective – to see things through his point of view – and give up any trust in my own judgement. Through fear it became vital at all costs not to anger him or annoy him as I would receive “rough justice” from him – when it was nearing the time for him to return from work I would literally begin to tremble with anxiety. I was not allowed to speak to him in the mornings as I cooked him his breakfast and ironed his uniform – I was not allowed to talk to him when he returned home from work in the evening as I prepared the meal and cleaned up. I was told in the evenings – even when just sitting watching television – “you are not to require conversation, it should be enough for you that I am sitting in the same room.”.
I went out to work and made my own friends, we attended church, and went to social events. All looked normal – but behind the closed front door of our house we were anything but normal. My self-esteem completely eroded, my sense of identity was invalidated – I became a hollowed out version of my former self. I could still make no sense of it, however, because my only reference point was the cracked mirror he held up to me – the only people who knew me well enough to mirror my true self to me were back in England – and so I began to believe the words my husband spoke about me and took on the distorted, fractured self image he reflected. I eventually came to believe his words of abuse – in fact they were the only words that seemed to explain the strange situation we were in and how he was not the same man I had married. It must be me – that I am a f***ing selfish bitch – and that I provoke him. It started with pushing and shoving and emotional/verbal abuse but soon he was hitting me, having affairs and walking all over me – he refused to undertake or share any household tasks at all and whatever I did in the house or kitchen was not good enough – there was constant criticism and blame but I was still expected to provide an exciting sex life in the bedroom.
All this time we continued to attend church where he played the part of perfect christian and husband. He refused, however, to read the bible or pray with me at home because, he said, “you don’t obey the verse – “wives obey your husbands” – so why should I be in the slightest bit interested in any other opinions you might have about God or the bible?” Over 10 years and the birth of a son – this abuse continued and escalated – I struggled on and just prayed daily that God would turn me into the kind of wife that would make him pleased with me so that we could have a happy life. My balanced and healthy perspective was destroyed – I was seeing things through his eyes – because to see things any other way was to incur punishment. Over time he completed his deconstruction of me. After 10 years I was close to a breakdown – my son was 2 years old – to cut a long story very very short – I fled with my son back to England. I filed for divorce and custody – he knew where we were – I did not hide from him but I knew that if I continued in the situation it would eventually kill me and leave my son to be also treated horrendously and be raised into something other that a whole person. SO finally I was free of the marriage and won custody of my son – two hard and painful years later.
How did I now go about becoming a whole person again?
I was a hollowed out shell – I didn’t really believe I was an abused wife but rather, I thought that I was a failure as a person who could not maintain a healthy marriage because of my shortcomings – it took me many years to be able to see that I had done my best whilst in relationship with someone who was emotionally damaged and abusive. Gradually over the years – it is now 28 years later – I have been able, with the support of others – both family and professionals – and the grace of a loving God – to mend the mirror and repair the fractured image of myself.
I would not wish to relive any of those experiences BUT the suffering I have endured (whilst healing as well as in the marriage – several times I would enter into a depression that caused me to wish this life was over as the pain of abuse resurfaced and the inner dialogue stemming from his cruel and abusive words paralysed me with self-loathing and fear) and the recovery I have gradually walked into have made me a stronger person. I am able to empathise with others – I have learnt to love myself – I have forgiven my ex husband – I have grown in relationship with God – my son is a successful business man, he is happy and secure and in a loving and stable marriage and they have just had their own child – I love my life now as I work with others who have had the self-belief knocked out of them. I work with them to restore their self-esteem and confidence. The journey has been hard but I am very happy in the place to which it has brought me to today.
ARISE: Would you like to SHARE YOUR VOICE? Please send us your story at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember no names, no faces. Lets break the silence on Abuse in it’s many forms.