Returning (Reluctantly) to the Days of Emotional Abuse
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:
Tell them to snap out of it, or
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.
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.