A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

I Didn’t Start the Fire — guest post by Happy to Bursting

Guest post from one of our readers.  Many thanks to her for sharing.

At first it was unclear to me exactly why I didn’t tell for so long. But as my world crumbled around me, a new world was being built: one of truth and love, free from abuse. With the telling came a destruction of perceived reality and the building of true reality which would only grow stronger.

My telling didn’t begin by my own work; it began at the hands of my abuser. It certainly was not his intention to reveal that his “dearest” wife was daily used for emotional target practice, but still he did. It was also the farthest thing from my mind to consider that his treatment of me was even wrong and that I might have some recourse against it. Years before I had steeled myself against the harsh perception that I was destined to remain forever bound to the maniac who called himself my husband. So when the day came that I was unable to find a suitable excuse for his outright abuse, I was terrified. How was I to maintain the image of marital peace when I was now being treated the same way in front of others as I was at home? How was I to defend his actions when others were now witnessing the very behavior?

It had been “comfortable” to be abused in the privacy of my own home. No one else saw it, I didn’t have to make excuses, and once I left the doors of my home I began the play-acting that I called my life. Because there were never any bruises, it was not too difficult to hide. Being in a new city among people who never knew “me” before, made it easy for my abuse to avoid notice. For them, the absence of bruises meant the absence of any cruelty. They never saw the inside, however. They never saw the disappearance of hobbies, interests, skills, gifts, talents, or other little joys because they had nothing with which to compare me. To them, the real “me” was the one being created in our home, changing ever so slightly each day until I became the person the abuser wanted me to become.

Because of these facts, the telling was only believed by those who knew the original “me” and could recognize the changes. It was those Precious Others who made it possible for me (both the old and new) to begin telling. Once it started I found it impossible to stop. Of course, I still qualified everything, taking as much blame as possible, downplaying the abuse as if I could somehow redeem it. Thankfully those I was telling could quickly recognize when it was the old me or the new who was speaking. Until I was able to make the decision to flee, they helped to slowly strip away the new me, peeling back the layers of protective deceit and false happiness until they found the person they once knew. The real me.

Once I saw the difference in all of its raw glory, the telling spread from those Precious Others to a pastor and some friends. It was their involvement that began the escalation of the abuse and the eventual necessity of my leaving.

So I didn’t start the fire (of telling), but I didn’t put it out, either. It was that fire that lit the path that led me home.

27 Comments

  1. Suzanne

    I’m so happy that you are now free. Thank you for telling your story. I hope that it will inspire others to get free from their abusers. Perhaps in time you can share more details about how the involvement of your pastor resulted in an escalation of abuse.

  2. Brenda R

    Thank you for telling your story. I am so glad that you found people who could lovingly help you to become the person you were meant to be. Abuse seems to always escalate before it ends, if it ends. Praise God you are free.

  3. cindyrapstad

    As hard as that was having the private pain become public is is also the only way to get the poison out. We were festering on the inside but so used to it that it became normal.
    Thank you for telling your story. So many of the points you made here resonate with me.

  4. Isaiah40:31

    “They never saw the disappearance of hobbies, interests, skills, gifts, talents…”

    This is so true. The person I once was slowly evaporated over the years, leaving an empty shell who no longer resembled the former me at all. And because we were moved every few years, and were largely isolated, the few people I did come in contact with never knew who I used to be. Now that we’ve been “out” a while, I feel some of those interests, skills, and talents returning. There’s an associated feeling of being newly alive that is hard to describe, because although it feels new, it is reminiscent of who I was 25 years ago.

    • Isaiah 40:31 your post is ME! Brought me to tears!

      So thankful for each and everyone that shares. It unlocks the realities and feelings held behind bars for far too long.

  5. Still Reforming

    Yup. That’s what it’s like. And some of us still have to stay for various reasons. I remain, but I too began to tell. My pastor has even discussed my leaving for the sake of my sanity, as I crumbled in his office telling a few brief stories of things over the years. Interestingly, it was my husband who called him to complain about me, but my pastor already had a heads-up from things going on in the home that I had communicated. My church family (a few) have seen me crumble bit by bit, and now it’s reaching a point where I just don’t know how God is going to lead, but lead He will and my trust is in His direction and timing. I pray for deliverance, but for now for the sake of a child I must stay. Can’t share details, but it is truly better for said child if I remain – for the time being. She needs to be protected with supervision. (Leaving might allow unsupervised visitation, and that’s untenable to me.) Pray for those of us who remain – for Truth to come out, as it has in your case. Praise the Lord for deliverance!!!!

    • Dear Still Reforming, I too remain for the sake of my children. Every time I think I can’t take it any more something surfaces that shows how important it is for me to be with them here.

    • That trapped feeling can be overwhelming at times. It’s good that your pastor believes you. Your goal of being there for the child will give you strength. It really is a case of trying to survive psychological warfare – we are Prisoners of War!

    • Isaiah40:31

      I thought I was staying for the sake of the children too. The exact thing – I was afraid that leaving would grant him unsupervised time w/ the kids and that staying, at least I could protect them, and I also thought I could “absorb” the abuse by running interference.

      I’ve learned 2 things since I left. One is that the kids were way more affected than I thought they were, and they are so happy to be out from under the oppression. Another is something I was told by a therapist, that witnessing abuse is like second-hand smoke … it is almost as damaging, or even is as damaging, as actually experiencing it. That really opened my eyes to what they experienced.

      Fortunately the judge has granted supervised visitation for now, but I know that’s not the case for everyone, and I know the very real fear of what non-supervised visits would be like for the kids.

    • Isaiah40:31, Celestebella and NotHeard, I just want to say how much I appreciate the different things you’ve offered here in reply to Still Reforming. There is so much respect in this ACFJ family for each survivor and her individual choices.

      Hugs to all of you. 🙂

  6. Wende

    Thank you for this.

  7. celestebella

    A friend shared a story of a person stranded on an island for many years. The person was in desperate need of food so went fishing. The handmade raft broke apart and the person struggled to swim back to his home. When the person made it to shore the hut called home was in flames; the person thought “oh no, I caught no fish, my raft broke, and now my home is destroyed.” Not too long afterward a ship was in sight and came to see what the flames where coming from and rescued the person. Morale of the story; just when you think your world is burning to the ground and all is lost, it just might be the grace of God coming to rescue you!

    • Thanks for sharing that Celestebella! It’s a good picture to tuck away…

    • Brenda R

      celestebella, What a beautiful story.

  8. I hope you will contribute again; this is rich with truth! So thrilled you are FREE!

  9. Thank you for sharing! The “Precious Others” who knew the “original” you and saw with eyes that see are true heroes. They possess God’s tender heart which is “Father to the fatherless” and “protector of widows” (Ps 68:5).

    These “Precious Others” are heroes because they helped you peel back the “layers of protective deceit and false happiness” which are thick. I’m sure this wasn’t easy. Their patience to stand by you until you made the decision to flee took time…lots of time. Once you realized your “image of marital peace” was really a mirage, you made more efforts to seek help, and amazingly you found it from a pastor!

    Imagine if there were more pastors like this who actually led and protected their flock like these “Precious Others!” By helping the oppressed and confronting abusers right in their own congregations, I believe REVIVAL and much needed hope would come for today’s marriages and for the upcoming generations!

    It’s time to clean up the house of God!

    • Valerie

      “It’s time to clean up the house of God!”

      Amen!!!

    • It’s time to clean up the house of God!

      Yes.

      For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God (1 Peter 4:17)

  10. healingInHim

    “It’s time to clean up the house of God!” — AMEN!!
    Would be so comforting to have a ‘safe church’ …

    For them, the absence of bruises meant the absence of any cruelty… They never saw the disappearance of hobbies, interests, skills, gifts, talents, or other little joys because they had nothing with which to compare me. To them, the real “me” was the one being created in our home, changing ever so slightly each day until I became the person the abuser wanted me to become.

    — this whole post and the comments have really touched the heart — thanks to everyone for sharing — praying to become ‘whole again’.

  11. downtheroad

    Thank you so much “Happy to bursting”, it is so important to show those still trapped how great life can be! (even though we are told that we are nothing without the abuser.).. So many of our Sisters didn’t make it, so we know every day we have is precious! I have half done craft projects around the house, a crocheted blanket,a painting, I remember the Abuser being very angry when i started a painting course,and when i got a Car, his vice like grip was slipping away! Life can be good,I can eat when i want, i can get up and go out a moments notice,i can go where i want without having to “ask”, or having to constantly answer angry phone calls because i wasn’t where i was “supposed to be”, I can have my own opinions!!… not His, like my own music,i remember listening to “lifted” by the Lighthouse family, he would go around the house mimicking it!!.. then quickly sold the only copy!…We can have Joy in life, we are free free free! Praise God, who values us for who we are, and never wants to see His precious Daughters be unhappy for even a second, He made us to be free, flourish and Fly! Which is going to be my new motto in life!
    Free
    Flourish
    Fly
    Hallelujah!

    • Isaiah40:31

      “Life can be good,I can eat when i want, i can get up and go out a moments notice,i can go where i want without having to “ask”, or having to constantly answer angry phone calls because i wasn’t where i was “supposed to be”, I can have my own opinions!!

      The comment above could have been written by me too. After living in such a controlling environment, it is so good to be able make my own decisions.

      • Brenda R

        “Life can be good,I can eat when i want, i can get up and go out a moments notice,i can go where i want without having to “ask”, or having to constantly answer angry phone calls because i wasn’t where i was “supposed to be”, I can have my own opinions!!

        Hallelujah!!! We were made free and not to be under bondage.

  12. HappyToBursting

    I’m so glad this could be encouraging to others. The escalation in the abuse shortly before my leaving was caused by the church’s pastor and elders because they refused to acknowledge his actions as abuse. I begged and pleaded for counseling, and X finally agreed, saying, “But only because you need it.” That was fine with me – I *wanted* it to be my fault! I knew if it was my fault, I would do anything and everything to make the necessary changes. (And at that point I didn’t realize this is what I had been doing, and precisely how I was further enabling him.) Once the pastor was informed of things that had been happening, the greatest counsel X was given was to let me “own” the kitchen. In all that I said, with obvious examples of manipulation and control and overwhelming heavy-handedness, my “relief” was to be given the kitchen. X was then told that he should simply “not do” a couple of the other items on my list – items that exemplified an attitude and lifestyle of abusive control, but the pastor only saw the actual act connected to it, and that it bothered me. X wanted to know “for how long?” he needed to discontinue those things.

    After only a couple of these sessions, I was faced with a man who began using on-demand tears and artificial sorrow over his sin, without ever actually acknowledging any of it. His abusive behaviors only continued, and he began receiving accolades from others who called him a “spiritual giant”, lauding his behaviors as being like their own with their own wives.

    The pastor who had been doing our counseling told me at one point that sometimes a separation is necessary, but when I showed up at the church a few days later, van packed, and children in tow, to tell him I was on my way out, I was met with anger and resistance. In tears, I called my home pastor, 1600 miles away, and he encouraged me by reminding me that I would do what I knew was right. And so I left, only to be told 2 weeks later that the church was beginning disciplinary procedures against me. He had repented, you see, and I had only hardened my heart against him. And so they excommunicated me. (I contemplated sending flowers to thank them for the unanimous vote.)

  13. bright sunshinin' day

    Happy to Bursting, I wish you could name the denomination because it all sounds too familiar. Nonetheless, these church leaders have blood on their hands. Though they think they have “washed their hands” clean of you and of their responsibility in it all, as Pilot did with Jesus, they are still guilty. It will all come out in the open one day. It did not go unnoticed by the One who judges justly!

    • HappyToBursting

      How about this: non-denominational, with a side of reformed theology and zero concept of grace?

  14. Gary W

    “And so they excommunicated me. (I contemplated sending flowers to thank them for the unanimous vote.)”

    Yes, it is a cause for great celebration to have been excommunicated from a very synagogue of Satan.

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