There is a question that will forever plague me. Where was my help when I needed it? Did I hide my abuse that good? Did I fake it so well that nobody saw even a hint of what was happening? Did my husband have everyone so fooled that they didn’t believe he was capable of any wrong in our marriage?
I’ve thought hours upon hours about this question, and I really don’t have an answer that satisfies me. I was a member of a close knit church family. It HAD to be apparent that something was wrong in our marriage. Heaven knows that I tried giving hints! All victims of abuse will try giving hints as their plea for help! Many times I sat on that cold, hard church pew with rivers of tears flowing down my face. Do you want to know how many times I got asked what was wrong? NONE!
I had a sister who lived with us for several years. It was only after John and I separated that she said, “I used to lie in bed and hear you crying for hours. I wanted to ask you what was wrong, but I was too afraid.”
She heard the crying, yet didn’t ask! She saw the sadness, but never went beyond wondering why. She was too afraid to ask. Most everyone has been in this kind of situation. We don’t want to interfere mostly because we don’t want to make things worse!
You might be wondering why “I” didn’t take action. Why did I continue to live in a relationship where emotional abuse had been going on for years and years?
Now that I’m free from this abuse, I am finally beginning to understand. There are layers of pain from emotional abuse. Layers upon layers of pain and hurt. Depression. Sadness. Anger. Guilt. Frustration. Loss of self-respect. Lack of courage or inner strength. A growing dependency on the abuser. Feelings of no worth. And FEAR. So much FEAR.
I was so afraid that I wouldn’t even allow my mind to dream of a life without abuse until things got so critical that I wanted to die. I can remember laying on the couch curled up in a ball when the kids got off to school thinking of how much I wanted to die. I never came up with an actual plan for ending my life, but I wished things like dying in my sleep. That’s how badly I wanted relief from this daily agony.
Again I have to ask. Didn’t anyone see the hollow look in my eyes? Didn’t anyone pick up on the extreme sadness with my life? I guess not. In fact, I can probably say they didn’t. Victims of abuse are very good at hiding the abuse, lying about the abuse, and covering up for the abuse. Why? Because it takes so much strength to talk about it. There is such a feeling of shame and an overpowering feeling that nobody really cares. And, the constant, nagging fear of rejection.
My abuse was not likely to be seen or understood by others mainly because when people looked at me they saw me as part of a “couple.” And the other half of that couple (John) was loved and adored. Nobody would ever think he was capable of being anything except a wonderful, caring husband! He had masterfully created an iron wall of support for himself over the years. He knew what he was doing and his actions were very intentional! Abuse is never a mistake!
Can you begin to understand how deep and complicated abuse of any kind is? It’s part of a tangled web of deceit and lies. There was a constant tug-of-war going on inside of me. I wanted to get away, but didn’t know how. I wanted my life to be free of this pain, but felt I had no support at all. I wanted to break away — like a person being held hostage — but kept thinking of what a failure I’d look like to others because nobody would understand. I felt alone and desperate and had no clue how to get the help I needed!
Inside I was falling apart. Piece by piece my heart was breaking. It was a slow wearing down until I felt like I was nothing but an empty shell.
I can’t tell you exactly how it happened. But, I remember a friend of my sister’s calling me because she was in an abusive relationship. Her husband had a raging anger, and he was trying to keep their son from her. She wanted a suggestion for a Christian counselor. (What a joke that she was asking me for advice when I needed counseling as much as she did!)
I managed to find her a Christian counselor and she kept in touch throughout the months. She separated and got custody of her little boy. She was beginning to get her life back. Emotionally she was getting stronger. And, as her way of thanking me for helping her, she invited me on a beach vacation with her and three other women.
I have no idea how I got the courage to go, but I did, and it was on that trip that I knew I had to get help. Hearing about how her life was improving made me realize that there was some hope for me, too.
Coming home was horrible. It was a ten hour trip, and with each passing hour I grew more and more tense and felt sick in my stomach. I knew then that I definitely needed to do something. It would be another two years of deep, emotional pain and millions of tears until I would finally get the courage to get some help.
Next time, I will share with you that critical defining moment in my life when I made the phone call that would ultimately save my life.
Emotional abuse is so difficult for others to see. There are no bruises or broken bones. There are no marks around the neck from being strangled. Instead there is brokenness in the heart, and that’s a brokenness that can’t be seen by the naked eye. It’s such a hidden, safely guarded pain! And, the abuser knows it. The abuser knows how to keep pressing down on a victim until it’s even hard to breathe! And, all the while putting on that very polished exterior of love to others. Believe me, the abusers know exactly what they are doing!
If you are in an abusive situation please know that you aren’t alone. I thought I was, but there was help. I just had to take the first step to find it. I can finally breathe now. I go to sleep at night in peace. I don’t soak my pillow with tears anymore. I want to live and not die. I treasure every beautiful moment of life, and you can, too! Yes, it’s hard. Really, really hard taking that first step to get away, but it is the best, most wonderful gift you will ever give yourself! You’ll be giving yourself back the gift of life! There is nothing better than that!
To those who are suffering physical and/or sexual abuse, I beg you to get help now. Don’t delay! The longer you wait, the more trapped you will feel. Abuse squeezes the life right out of you until you finally collapse in despair and feel so alone, discouraged, and beaten down that you feel there is no way out.
Please know you are not alone!
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The more educated you are, the more empowered you will be! It’s time! The time is now for all abuse to end! Please, let’s be a voice together and end this abuse!