Friday, February 17, 2017

"You have no power over me!"

When I was in kindergarten, I used to go to the principal’s office to read TIME magazine to him. Occasionally, he would ask me what a specific word meant. I remember being worried I wouldn’t explain it correctly, that I would be wrong. That summer, I spent weeks wrestling with math, sometimes literally banging my head on the desk in order to catch up enough to enter 2nd grade.

My mom was an early childhood educator, and my dad was a social worker. It was the early 80s, a time for child psychology. I was born with some natural intelligence, but my parents trained and honed it. I was in the Gifted classes. I was told how unique and special I was. How I was smart. I was raised to believe I could solve any problem, accomplish anything if I put my mind to it.

As I got older, I went to college, graduated in veterinary science, became a web designer, served a mission for my church, came home, and met a man.

He was not of my faith, and I was only interested in dating people who believed as I did. He said that something had been missing from his life. He wanted the family life, the life of faith. He wanted to have the relationship with God I had. He listened to the missionaries in my home, and was eventually baptized into my church.

Everyone in my ward said how cute we were together. When, the night before I moved away, he floundered over asking me to marry him, I said yes before he finished his sentence. I had prayed about it. I thought it was right.

I moved, and several months later, he followed. We were married a little over a year after his baptism. We had our first child two years later. I became pregnant with our second a little over two years after that.

When I was three months pregnant, I cancelled my plans to visit my uncle. I was too nauseated to leave the house unless absolutely necessary. My husband was going to stay home and relax, but that was impossible. I don’t remember what started the fight, but I do remember trying to stay as calm and non-confrontational as possible.

The calmer I stayed, the more enraged he got. He grabbed me around my waist in front of my two-year-old daughter, and tried to push me out the door as she screamed in the background. That night, he left as he’d been threatening to do. For the first time, I experienced shock.

It’s not so bad, really. Shock made real life seem like a dream. Everything happened, but it had nothing to do with me. Now, I only remember bits and pieces of what happened. But let me quote my own words recounting the incident, written only a few days later.

“At this point, on some level, I realized that nothing I said was helping, that speaking calmly was only enraging him further, and that if he didn't care whether or not I could take her to buy her food, he was not primarily concerned with her welfare. He went on for some time about my faults, and listed all my past mistakes. I sat there, trying to think of some hymn or scripture or poem to recite in my head so I wouldn't cry. I didn't want to cry in front of him. I could not think of anything to say, anything to do, but sit there on the couch while he raged. The only thing that came to my mind was to be quiet and say nothing, and that I was not the first to be falsely accused….

At one point, he said something to the effect of ‘What, aren't you going to say anything? You always have such a snappy reply, some way to turn it back on me and make everything my fault, don't you have anything to say?’ I replied, ‘I have nothing to say. You are looking for a fight, and I don't want to argue.’ I think he said something about how hypocritical it was for me to tell him what he was thinking and feeling, when I didn't want him to tell me what I was thinking and feeling. I remember apologizing to him at one point for responding to his expression of hurt feelings with a defense. It is something I do often. I'm not very good at just saying ‘I'm sorry I hurt your feelings.’…

The police has (sic) said he might be arrested, which also scared me, but he ended up being cited instead. I remember one of the police, the one I mostly talked with, he was taller and dark, came in and said something like if he stayed outside with my husband, my husband would talk himself into jail.”

It turned out that being smart didn’t keep me from being abused. It was a problem I couldn’t fix, no matter how much I tried, no matter how much effort I made.

Being faithful didn’t keep me from being abused. My relationship with the Lord had gummed up with self-deprecation, doubt, and fear. Being able to hear and recognize the Spirit is primarily predicated on feelings, and mine were chaotic. I no longer knew what to believe or think. I had only the raw words of scripture and the prophets to go on. Sure, they said that abuse was a reason to divorce. But I hadn’t yet recognized myself in that word. I knew only that marriage was sacred, that Satan fought against it, and I was stronger than Satan.

Growing up, they had told me so.

But eventually, I had no choice. In order to feed and protect my children, I had to divorce. It was a very dark time for me. But time made things better. I learned to apply the Atonement not only to my own sins, but to the sins and mistakes of others. I had faith that I could heal. I freed myself from the debt he left me with, I renewed my life and my faith. I did my best to raise my kids in the difficult circumstances they were now in.

I made new friends, wonderful friends who actually wanted to be around me. It had been awhile since I’d felt that. (And to be honest, even now I have a hard time believing it.) Some of those friends were going through similar things, victims fighting their way out of the same hell I had found myself in. I started dating again, and met some great guys.

But in each of those guys, I saw a whisper of what my marriage had been. I didn’t have the capacity to overlook those red flags any more. I realized I was better off single than risk bringing yet another abusive man in my life and into my kids’ lives. So I got involved in things I loved to do. And I learned to be happy alone.

Hard times still come. The kids’ dad is still the same as he always was. And sometimes I doubt I’m strong enough for my girls. But always I pull through.

Smart isn’t enough to protect you from abuse, and faith isn’t enough. It turns out that even though friends can’t be enough, either, those are exactly the things you need to stop being abused.

I may never fully trust my capacity to love again. I may never be able to completely protect my kids from being hurt by a narcissistic abuser. I may never be entirely free from the consequences of his bad decisions, either. But it won’t matter. He doesn’t matter.

I am smart enough to know when to walk away. Smart enough to know when the label of “divorcee” or “single mom” is better than the alternative. I am faithful enough to hope beyond any reason that healing will come, that the Lord still has a place for me. And I have friends and family who love me, who aren’t afraid to support me when the lies and the fear become too much, who remind me that truth is stronger than lies, and faith is stronger than fear.

It turns out that the only thing that can stop someone from being abused is the abuser. But it also turns out that, with the Atonement, the only person who is truly trapped in the abuse is the one who chose it.


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