The Worst Advice This Abuse Survivor Ever Received
The following personal story was graciously submitted to us by an anonymous survivor of horrific abuse. Many, many thanks to her for sharing it with us. Trigger warning: much suffering and pain in this story.
In the middle of my second separation from my abusive ex-husband, the elder of our church called. He called to inform me my soul was in danger. It did not matter that my physical life, my emotional life was in danger from the abuse. He insisted that there was something much worse for me. “God hates divorce,“ he said. “Go back to your husband. Submit to him. Put a hundred and ten percent into the marriage what you want out of it. It will work. He is not abusive. He has poor coping skills that’s all.”
I hung up the phone deeply scared. He was right — being beaten by my husband was far less fearful than an eternity in hell. He didn’t say it quite that directly, but he implied it when he said I was misguided and unjustified in my separation and pending divorce action. Fear consumed me. I didn’t want to live an eternity in hell. So, I went back.
Taking everything the elder said to heart, I studied every book I could find on how to be a godly wife, a Proverbs 31 jewel. I understood that biblical womanhood meant getting rid of the career and welcoming children as God determined to send them. I welcomed all of them thinking, hoping, and praying the abuse would stop. I threw myself into the role of being a keeper of the home, believing that embracing such a call would have an effect for good. After all, what could I lose by striving to be a godly wife? I didn’t know the answer to that question at the time. But, I know now. I lost ten years of my life. I gained enough traumatic experiences to suffer from chronic PTSD. I added children to my life who have all been impacted by the battering. They have lost portions of their childhood. They lost because they had to grow up in a home where daddy was beating momma or sometimes big brother or sometimes them. When that was finally over, they were then in a house with a mother who was fighting with every ounce of her being to keep the children safe, to cope with ongoing court battles, and a mommy who couldn’t function because chronic stress took its toll on her health.
The advice to return and submit was the worst advice I ever received. It was wrong. It was dangerous. But more than that, it was a form of spiritual abuse. At the basis of this suggestion was the concept that my works would save my husband. Also, it largely blamed me for his abuse. It echoed my abuser’s distortions that I did not do enough, was half the woman I should be, and deserved what I got because I failed.
Obviously, going back and submitting did not work. It nearly got me and my children killed. It took me ten years but I took a stand in a third and final separation. Years have passed since I got the restraining order. I can not emphasize enough how that bad advice deeply scarred me. For years after the divorce, I could not organize my home. Every effort to be a keeper of the home failed. My children needed me but I could only grieve when I thought of what I needed to do for them. I allowed God to plan my family, thinking that doing so was a part of the biblical womanhood that would end the abuse. Instead, it gave him more impetus to abuse me. I had children very close together. How could I leave? And if I did, the courts would see to it that the leaving was not really leaving because he has parental rights.
You see, all my efforts to be that godly biblical woman got me more abuse and ensured that I and my children would have many years more in bondage to our abuser. I was immobilized with grief. Why didn’t God answer my prayers? Why didn’t He reward my efforts to do what I thought was the right thing to do? Instead, I was punished. My ex-huband did not just have poor coping skills. He is an all-out batterer. When the police arrested him they said he was the kind of man who would kill us then himself. The fear of him remains.
I have had some measure of success in living under the radar. It has given the children and me a chance to reclaim some of what was lost in this hellish battle. For some years after the divorce, I had only been surviving — unable to keep house or to keep up with school consistently. I believed that I once kept an organized house. Yet, it was a faint memory, a memory that includes hissing from my ex-husband.
I began to reflect on those years and think that maybe I was remembering myself more highly than I ought. Perhaps he was right and I was a messy. There are lots of disorganized people in this world. I reasoned I was just one of them. Still, when I talked of my desire to be a keeper of the home, I would weep. I wanted to care for my children but I couldn’t get out of survival mode. I turned to friends and prayer warriors and asked them to pray for me. I asked them to pray that I would heal. God is so good, so merciful.
Now, more recently, I have seen a change in myself. I have kept a house much neater than I have ever kept in my life. There is one huge difference. I am not keeping hyper-organized because I am in fear that he is going to walk through that door and launch into a fit of rage. Today, I clean because I have been given a new life. I have been healed and I have returned to finding joy in keeping my home. I am so thankful to be remarried to a man who understood trauma and who really appreciates my efforts. He loved me when I couldn’t do anything but lay around and recover. He loved me when I couldn’t cook because I was going through profound grief. Today my home is more organized than any time I ever tried to organize it in the past.
I write this because I realize now how bad advice from spiritual leaders adds new dimensions to the trauma in domestic violence. It is vital that church leaders get their act together. They are accomplices in the abuse. Praise God that there has been an end to the grief for me and I have finally returned to my high calling as a keeper of the home. I can’t emphasize enough how hurtful it was to be told to go back and submit only to find that it nearly got me killed.