“Does he really love me,” she wondered. This wasn’t the first time around in this swirling pattern of thoughts. His actions and behavior showed something different than his words. His actions were manipulative. Self serving, if truth be told. Yet his words said it was all for her good. She kept thinking about how many times he had reassured her of his love. He brought gifts, did her favors and… But somehow she kept getting hurt. Why did his version of love result in repercussions?
Hit by a brick wall. That’s what I would say. I remember as a child saying, “What does it take, what didn’t I see, what happened that I got hit by a brick wall again?” What was my “brick wall”? My dad yelling. Boy, he could yell. When he was done, you felt almost literally hit. He never laid a finger on me beyond appropriate discipline. But the yelling! When I think of it now, I often don’t remember what I did to get there. I can’t even eek out an image of the berating. However, I clearly remember the emotional repercussion and tears that followed, usually in my room or elsewhere after the fact. I remember the shame I heaped upon myself and the self loathing for having gotten caught in that situation again… As if I was to blame in the first place.
Recently, I’ve been helping a couple friends through domestic violence situations. I’ve been reading and researching, using various websites, blogs, books and pod casts, to understand this cycle better. While sharing their experiences related to mine, I was blown away that what I had experienced as a child and teen was actual real domestic violence. One of the first experiences I shared with a friend was about the time that my sister choked me so much, I thought I was going to die. I had been living with roommates for 9 or 10 months during my junior year of college. When I came back to my parents house, my sister and I got into a fight. Well, not exactly a fight. She told me what to do and I said no. She gave me the “evil stare of death”. Man, that stare used to scare the living daylights out of me. This time I realized it was just that. A stare. A vain threat. Now that I had been out and lived on my own, I realized this didn’t have to have power over me. I said something like, “That’s it? A stare? That’s not going to work anymore. I’m not scared of you.” Next thing I remember is ending up flat face down on the floor with my 250+ lb sister on my back, hands around my throat, choking me. I was struggling to get my breath. I remember thinking, “If I don’t do something, I’m going to die. Lord help me!” With everything that was in me and all my adrenaline pumping, I pulled my arms in under me- which was no small feat. Even more astounding, I bench-pressed my sister and threw her off my back. She hit the wall, which must have knocked the wind out of her. I certainly didn’t stick around to find out. I ran up to my bedroom, shut, locked the door and then shoved a fairly large all metal Steelcase desk against it. When my mom got home, she came up and asked me to open the door. I remember being very insistent that I would not open the door if my sister was there. Somehow that wasn’t a red flag for my mom? I’m pretty sure I told her what happened. I don’t remember there being any big deal made about it. Sometimes I wonder why not… Did she not believe me? I didn’t tell anyone else for years…
When I shared this story with a friend, she said, “Oh Laura! I’m so sorry!” That’s when it hit me… That’s not healthy behavior! This friend had been through a lot. I thought maybe she didn’t react the way others would. So I told another trusted friend. She instantly said, “OH Laura!! That’s not okay! Are you serious?! That’s abuse!”
My dad and sister had been so abusive for so long, I didn’t realize what danger I was in. Like the frog in the pot, I had grown so accustom to it that I didn’t know danger when I saw it. Funny too, considering I was continually on the alert. When I was a kid, we talked about “walking on egg shells” around my sister. We talked about how dad was “micromanaging”. But no one said, “That’s abuse”. On that day when my sister stared at me, I had no idea there was a real chance that she would kill me. Or that that wasn’t the only episode of abuse during my three month college summer break at home.
My room in my parent’s house was right next to the bathroom. Having lived with roommates for almost a year, I had grown accustom to sharing a bathroom with someone who was not my family. This morning seemed like no other morning to me. I got up and gently knocked on the door to find out if I should run down for breakfast first or wait to get in the shower right away. The brick wall hit me and I hadn’t even opened my mouth. Like a volcano behind the door, the fury of my father verbally erupted. I was getting yelled at through the door just for knocking. Again, because I had lived on my own, it was like the spell was broken. I remember saying, “I just wanted to know how long you were going to be. I wasn’t asking for you to get out.” While I thought that was going to ease the tension, it only added to it. It became a big blow up fight. I got smart and walked away. But later it caught up to me. The fight started again. I remember firmly and in a controlled manner standing my ground, despite crying so hard I was soaking the front of my shirt. I made the point that I was just being polite, asking how long he was going to be and it didn’t necessitate that type of yelling. At that, he backed down and even showed remorse. But the emotional cost to me was great.
In my mind, the two greatest episodes of abuse (where I was clearly not remotely wrong), happened during that three months. I called my roommates and we moved out again as soon as we possibly could. I thought I was free.
It takes many forms. It sneaks up on you. It cycles. And something in your past may be opening you up for it again in the future. It’s only after I have been able to get away from my abusers for a significant time that I’ve been able to see more clearly. This is why I was open to spiritual abuse from my former pastor. This is why I believed him and didn’t have enough respect for myself to believe my own thoughts. This is why I took his word over what I felt God was saying to me. Does that make me responsible for the abuse that happened to me? No. I’m not responsible for other people’s abusive choices. But God help me, I can have the strength to walk away the next time.
Join me for Part II to learn about my abusive ex.