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Returning (Reluctantly) to the Days of Emotional Abuse

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Today I would like to get more personal than I usually do . . . here goes.

I am a step-mom. I am also a survivor of domestic violence. Some days these two don’t collide, but often they do. Let me explain.

I love my stepchildren, but make no mistake, being a  step parent is hard. Heck, being a parent is hard. Period. But having been both, I can attest that being a step parent is harder. Some days, my step-kids give me the right to parent them, with all this entails: cuddles, and boundaries, giggles, and discipline. The next day, with no warning, they allow me none of these things. They greet my simple “hello” with a frosty glare. Questions about their day at school are answered with a grunt. On numerous occasions, one of them will wake up and decide not to speak to me. All day.

If one of my own (birth) children acted this way, I would either:

  1. Tell them to snap out of it, or

  2. Ignore them.

I wouldn’t enjoy it, but it wouldn’t cause me so much angst. Why not? I am 100% sure my kids love me. No matter what we have been through, this is something I don’t question.

I can’t say this about my step-kids. I am NOT sure they love me. Some days they merely tolerate me. Yes, I pick them up from school, buy and cook their food, plan their birthday parties, go to their parent-teacher conferences, help them with their homework, etc. But, they would really prefer being with their “real” mom. I don’t fault them for this. It is just a fact.

What does this have to do with me being a domestic violence survivor? My loving, supportive, encouraging second husband, (who is also a counselor), explains that because of my history, my step-kids “trigger” me. In other words, their actions bring me back into the time I was being abused by my first husband.

During my emotionally abusive first marriage, my husband’s favorite tool was withholding . . . just about everything. You name it, he withheld it from me . . . attention, affection, love, money, physical touch. He withheld to punish me if I wasn’t doing what he wanted me to do. Early on in the marriage he would do this for a few hours. Later, he would do it for a few days. Toward the end of the marriage, he would do it for a month at a time. The last year of our marriage, he didn’t speak to me for a year…unless he was raging at me.

Imagine if you can, living with a person who is silent to you for an entire year. He was working from home, and I was a stay-at-home mom, so we were in the house together 24-hours a day. I rarely had a break. He would walk by me as if I didn’t exist. At the dinner table, he would eat the meal I prepared for him, but would talk around me to our children. If he needed the ketchup that was next to me, he would ask one of the kids to hand it to him. Because he wanted the kids to believe “nothing was wrong” in our marriage, he did not allow me to sleep in a separate room from him. Therefore, I lay next to him in our bed, night after night.

While he was withholding from me, he would also ambush me with surprise rages. I would think I was alone in a room, and suddenly, he would appear, screaming at the top of his lungs about whatever was making him angry. He woke me several times in the middle of the night by ripping the covers off me. On a different day, he calmly told me he hoped I would die when I went out in my car. My counselor nicknamed him the “terrorist” because of actions like these.

I have been out of my abusive marriage for close to a decade. In most ways I function well in society, and I enjoy a happy second marriage. However, getting the cold shoulder from my step-kids brings me back to those long years. I sometimes wonder if I will ever be healed. When I read the blogs and Facebook posts of other formerly abused women, I know I am not alone in this struggle. We second-guess ourselves, worrying we will never be healed. Can God use us when we are so broken? I believe He can, and this is how:

Imagine you were once a beautiful ceramic jar, perfect and whole. If someone were to put a small lamp inside the perfect jar, how much light would shine out? Only a little bit, from the opening at the top. Now, picture the jar broken and shattered into many pieces. This is a picture of our lives broken by the abuse we have suffered. God can take the many broken pieces of our lives and glue them back together. However, the jar will no longer be perfect. It will now have holes in it where small pieces of ceramic were shattered and/or lost. It doesn’t look perfect on the outside any longer. Yet, what happens when the same small lamp is placed inside the broken ceramic jar? Light can now pour out through the holes, where the broken places are.

This is an allegory of our lives if we give them over to God for healing. The light represents God and His wisdom and joy. We can share this light with others who experience the same pain we have experienced. I have empathy for other abuse victims and survivors, (and even other stepparents) I would never have had if I had never walked in their shoes. I can be more of a help to them because of my brokenness, not in spite of it.

I am no expert on healing from abuse. However, I have been walking down the road toward it for some time. Click here to read a blog I’ve written outlining some of the steps I’ve taken on my personal journey toward healing. I am currently writing my second book, A Journey to Healing after Emotional Abuse. For me, book writing is a slow process, so I’m not making any promises about the completion date. Like my journey to healing, my journey to writing this book is, well, a journey.

If you find yourself still in an abusive relationship, I invite you to read my first book, A Journey through Emotional Abuse: from Bondage to Freedom.

I would love to hear your stories and comments. 

I pray you feel the Lord’s presence as you take your own personal journey toward healing. Bless you all.

Caroline

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Amy Thomson says:

    It’s difficult trying to navigate triggers when they are people you have to live with. Unless one has been through it themselves, they can never understand the insecurity, doubt, worry, and sometimes fear the simplest things can stir up. An eye roll punctuated by cutting their teeth. A sigh. Certain phrases or words. Cold shoulders. Being invisible.

    All you have to do is see or hear one of these small things, and you find yourself suddenly thrown back to that day he looked through you the entire day. The weeks he refused to talk to you unless he yelled.

    For me it is still a struggle some days to keep my head in today and not be taken against my will back to fifteen short months ago. I have to consciously remind myself where I am, when it is, and most importantly that he is no longer there to cause me pain. Sadly, the man in my life has to somehow deal with these episodes, and it hurts me that I have to consciously and deliberately say “This is Kerwyn, not Kevin.” They are diametrically opposed in every way in how they live their lives, and the thought that an innocent word or phrase Kerwyn uses just immediately flips the switch and throws me back in the pain again.

    Unlike many, I do not believe that Jehovah put me through what I endured, further that He did so to use me for a purpose. However, I believe that God has put in me the love and compassion to use what was done to me by a man – an evil one at that – to not only raise awareness on domestic violence issues but MOST importantly to provide emotional support, advice, and encouragement to those whenever they need it. To ease the hurt, the helplessness, the loneliness, the shame. To help them come to a place they can forgive. My light is my love for others.

    Thank you for the post!

    • I know what you mean. My sweet husband gets frustrated at me sometimes when he comes into a room and I jump. Until I wrote this blog, I didn’t know why I do that. Now I know. My body is remembering something I have moved into my sub-consciousness, i.e. being surprised by the “terrorist.” I will share this with him : ).

      Thank you for all you do to shine your light for others. I love your blog! Bless you! Caroline

  2. LJohnson says:

    What takes years in the making cannot be undone over night. We must be patient with ourselves and accept we are relearning what it means to be truly loved. Months and even years away those small things bring up our trauma reaponse once it is safe to finally process. God bless and keep the faith. This too shall pass.

    • Thanks for the encouragement! You are right that we only feel safe to process these triggers when we are out of the abuse. And, the years of abuse do not magically disappear in a short period of time. I keep striving forward, and the love of my husband really helps me!

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