Rewriting The Story Of Emotional Abuse.
I’m pretty certain if you knew my story, you wouldn’t think what I have thought about myself for all the years since I left my marriage and for many of the years I was in it.
You wouldn’t think that I was a bad mother. You certainly would not think I was one who abandoned her children even if just emotionally for a while.
You also wouldn’t think I was a slut or a whore because I fell in love with someone other than my husband. Or a liar even while I was telling the truth and being honest instead of unfaithful.
If you knew my story, you would point out that their father and I lived only a mile away, that I fought a custody battle, that we shared custody every other week, that I was always there for them especially when they were sick or hurting and that missing a soccer game here and there was not a felony or a testimony to good or bad motherhood.
If you knew my story, you would be dumbfounded as to how I could believe that I was such a shit. You would castigate me for my guilt and shame and for carrying it all for everyone, partly so they did not have to, but mostly because I was told and then believed I deserved the punishment of a living hell.
You might plead with me to recall how much of my soul had died while living there — a slow, insidious death as it unknowingly yet systematically capitulated to belittlement, diminishment, and occasionally outright rage. Until my own belief systems were obfuscated by his distortions that somehow became my filter, my reality too.
Beliefs like I was lost and stupid, that I was lucky to have someone who never bought her flowers or treated her nice since men who do abuse their wives, that spending any kind of money was tantamount to risking destitution and forbidden even though I had a job that paid equal, sometimes more than his, that nice things were not necessary and neither was being treated nice.
And eventually, when I stopped complying, there were new beliefs being promulgated and programmed. Beliefs like I was a bad mother, one who would abandon her children and put them and him on the street.
Or so that’s what he told them. And my neighbors. And everyone and anyone who would listen.
I didn’t consider it an abusive marriage then, unrecognizable as such void of visible bruises and scars. The bloodstains on my soul hidden neatly behind tightly closed curtains.
Yes, if you knew my story, you might even go so far to say it was him who poisoned my children, who raged at me, manhandled me and holed me up in a small basement room for nine months using our children as leverage to keep me in his prison while calling me a slut and a whore in front of them, two precious little girls, small enough to be traumatized but old enough to bear witness.
You might tell me that anyone in my shoes might have been led down the same path. That when one is drowning and a life raft shows up, you grab before you think. You don’t care who is throwing it to you, or whether there are consequences that might ensue as a result of being rescued, or because of the person who is rescuing you.
You just grab, clutching desperately with hope that you thought was long gone for safety, for life.
Do I sound like an abused wife when I say “If I hadn’t fallen in love with another man, then he would not have transformed into a full-fledged psychopath?” As if his behavior and his undoing was my doing.
It’s all my fault. Such a well-worn phrase of people who feel powerless.
If you knew my story, I think you would understand how dysfunction can create an environment where one becomes susceptible to outside forces that purport to save you.
What I didn’t know at the time though is that nothing outside of yourself, except maybe God or the power you believe in, can save you. Sometimes however, outside forces not always pure can and do act as catalysts to give you courage that you lack, or support you don’t have.
Usually though we only need them when we still have not acquired our own inner strength, when we are nearly bankrupt spiritually, when we have not cultivated self-love.
And often they come gift-wrapped in shiny, enticing packages, like the frayed and worn one you just discarded looked like when it first showed up.
If you knew my story, you would know it is one that is still being written but that a new story is emerging.
One that understands that Love does not hurt. That obviously hitting is not love, but neither is demeaning, belittling or controlling another.
And that staying with someone who abuses you because you love them is not love either, and it’s especially not loving yourself.
In this new story, I’m more cautious about temptations that appear to be saviors. I’m cautious about saviors in general because I know salvation is an inside job. I try to think twice about unwrapping shiny gifts until I am clear about what I want first.
But most importantly, this new story is about forgiveness. Blame is easy. Anger is easy. Whether that be projected toward myself or my so-called perpetrators.
Adrenaline rushes, pulses race, emotions surge when we blame and curse. We feel powerful and vindicated. There is an instantaneous release that is oddly soothing. Even punishing my own self to make myself feel better, as crazy as it seems, sometimes does indeed make me feel better!
For a moment anyway.
Forgiveness, on the other hand, is hard. It takes work. Forgiveness is hard but forgiveness is healing.
You have to step into a higher version of yourself. You have to stop thinking you have to feel bad to feel good. You have to respond differently from what is your automatic response.
When you forgive, you have to see the divinity in others and know that they are in pain too, even while they are hurting you. You have to know that is ‘why’ they are hurting you.
It may take years, it may even take a lifetime, but once you forgive, especially the person who hurt you the most, it liberates you. If you are lucky, it may even liberate them.
There is no more need for stories that keep you trapped, or for perpetuating the same story you just left behind. No need for sustaining the same emotions that lead to all the forms of abuse to begin with.
Forgiveness is healing.
If you knew my story, you would know the story of countless others. People hurting people or people allowing themselves to become powerless to satisfy something lacking in themselves.
There is hope for another kind of story though. That is part of my story too. Practice forgiveness for yourself, and others, and this new chapter can be written. Just try. Start with a draft.
The Graceful Life’s mission is captured in sister blogs Graceful Under Fire — stories of embracing what it means to be both human and divine, and the newly launched Graceful After Midlife, which gives voice to the stories of people awakening in midlife.