[TRIGGER WARNING: Descriptions of Verbal + Physical Abuse]
It started after school. Rather than bouncing to me, my daughter dragged her feet and begged for food. She gobbled the remainder of a sandwich, from that day’s lunch, and raced toward the park with a bag of crackers. She pleaded for chocolates from my purse a few minutes later. You’d think she hadn’t eaten all day.
Whining and complaining kicked into gear on the walk home. She pestered her brother. I assumed she was tired, but something else was happening.
“I want to scratch your face off. You do not love me.” She hit me that evening after getting out of the bathtub.
Tucking her into bed, I carefully pressed my lips to her forehead. “I can see that something is going on and that you are hurting. You know I love you. I know you know that. I hope you feel you can share what’s going on with me or another adult you can trust.”
“I want to be with you this weekend!” The words burst from her mouth. She was trembling. “I don’t want to go to daddy’s. I’m so scared of daddy.”
I had heard it from her before. It was a main reason that I had moved her and her brother out of our family’s home.
“I wish dad was a pig or a hippo or an elephant.” She giggled. The image seemed to help her. Her eyes looked up at me vulnerably for a response.
“I wish your daddy was Prince Charming,” I said. “I wish he was the best daddy in the world and made you feel safe. I wish you could trust him and depend on him and never be afraid. I really do wish that for you.”
We both let out a sigh. Holding onto each other, in the stillness and the dark, we knew there was a possibility that might never happen. But we had each other, and with help I knew it would get easier.
She knew I loved her; she knew we were safe. In the sweet, gentle embrace we shared, she knew we would be o.k. That night she didn’t want me to leave her bedside. So I stayed.
While we were married, he acted manipulative and verbally abusive. At first, I stood up to him. I left the room, during his angry outbursts, hoping he would calm down. But he followed me shouting. One night, when I tried to leave, he blocked the front door. After a second attempt, he wrapped his arms around my body so I could not move. Eventually I stopped standing up for myself. When he hit my leg, a week before the wedding, it should have been a clear sign not to move forward.
After many years of trying to be everything he demanded, I started to fade. I let my husband do what he wanted, and say what he wanted, in efforts to avoid his anger. He shouted abusively at me in front of our children. He began pushing our two-year-old daughter when she challenged him. Seven years later, after many attempts to save our marriage, I broke. My body shut down due to adrenal fatigue. Fainting and struggles sleeping put me in the hospital.
Fear gripped me when we separated in the same home for four months. We got counseling, and I hoped we could repair the damage to our marriage and family. But his rage erupted, unpredictably, and the children and I lived in fear. A time came when he grabbed my arm and would not let go. I broke free, locked myself in a bathroom, and called my mother who alerted the police. I asked him to move out so the children and I could heal, but he refused. The situation became critical, a short time later, when my daughter stood up to him, and he shoved her. Quickly, I grabbed her and her brother. My husband screamed at us as we exited the house.
He left angry, abusive voicemails on my phone. I received horrific texts and emails from him. He changed the door locks so my children and I could no longer access our home. He withdrew the funds from our joint bank account so we had nothing. It was the hardest battle of my life, but absolutely necessary. I saw no choice but to protect the children and myself.
No one from church called to help. Nobody asked if my children were okay. Other than SheLoves women, nobody has contacted me.
Almost a year later, we still feel the negative impact of my ex-husband’s abuse. In this place where we are supposed to be free, I listen to my beautiful daughter share fears of her father, someone she calls daddy. My heart breaks. I want to keep her from him but the court has awarded him regular midweek and weekend visits. When my children come home from their father’s, the damage continues. They say he shouts aggressively at them. He recently wrapped his hand around my daughter’s neck to stop a tantrum. When confronted, his manipulation and lies covered the abuse. Social services have become involved, and my children are safe.
In the midst of continuing stress, and illness, I gather up the strength God is giving me. I have been rebuilding a safe and loving home for my children while learning to value and love myself. Sometimes we get there—We talk, we share, we open our hearts to each other, we snuggle and kiss. We even giggle. God has taken care of us in every possible way. We live in a new and wonderful home, close to family and friends.
Slowly, I am taking steps forward. Circumstances may remain challenging, but I am not powerless. My former husband’s behavior may not change, but my response largely determines the future. Instead of remaining a victim, and living in fear, I choose freedom.
I have written for SheLoves before now. But living with abuse closed my mouth. Now I want to encourage others to speak. I have not had the courage to tell my story until now.
This story is part of our Stop the Silence, Start the Healing initiative. Each month we will feature the story of one person who has never had the chance to tell her story, without fear, in a safe space. We honor these women who are speaking up.
Do you think that you may be on the receiving end of abuse? Please visit our resource page for more information on what it is.
Image credit: Harry