October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic violence is a crime that includes both physical and emotional abuse. It is frequently hidden from public view, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Many victims suffer in silence, afraid to seek help, or not knowing where to turn. If you need assistance or know someone who needs help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Read one woman’s story about her experience with domestic violence.
I don’t like to admit that I have suffered abuse because I am a strong, independent, and accomplished woman. It was not the kind of abuse you can see. It was subtle, twisted, and relentless.
I spent a year in therapy, recognizing and acknowledging it because this type of abuse eats you from the inside out. The damage made me distant, ugly, mean, and unapproachable to anyone who I thought might suspect the truth and expose my marriage for what it really was.
Everything was always my fault: the affairs, the drinking, the accidents. My husband withheld affection and sincere conversation, threatened he would kick me out if I got fat, irritable, or didn’t keep the house clean.
Too much to bear
The weight of trying to hold everything together, cover up all the lies, and be the only responsible person in the marriage was almost too much to bear. The obligation I had accepted in marrying my husband kept me in this cycle. I would get upset with his actions, and that would offend him.
Then I would have to beg for his forgiveness, wait, and manage the criticism and threats. Until next time.
In the end, my husband’s behavior toward me was hateful and mean. I was not allowed to have any contact with his family or our church. He tried to turn all our friends against me and blamed his alcoholism and indiscretions on me, calling me a controlling wife.
The most significant abuse that I suffered was the loss of my soul. Trying to conform and be who he wanted me to be or who I thought I should be was a never-ending and vertical hike that almost killed me.
My loyalty to him and the fear and shame associated with this loss brought me to the breaking point. Though I was shattered and destroyed, God picked me up and carried me. As my husband continued to get sicker, I got stronger, and eventually I knew I could no longer have any contact with him. The love of Christ and the fellowship of my sisters helped me mend. Today I know my cracks and flaws make me beautiful.
The greatest gift
God gave me the greatest gift: redemption and the ability to be who I am. Away from the unhealthy man I had loved for most of my life, I am able to heal and become whole. I can rediscover myself and process what led me to that point. I can accept the person God made.
Women of the ELCA has always been there for me. The women have accepted me with open arms even when I couldn’t raise my own. This organization is a beacon of light in the darkness to many. The stories we share and encouragement we offer one another is timeless and priceless.
Domestic violence comes in many forms, and all forms can damage a person until she is unrecognizable.
Healing takes time and energy. But God is there cheering you on, holding your hand and carrying you to the point where you can become healthy again.
Sara Larson is chair of the budget and finance committee for the churchwide executive board, 2017–2020. She is a lay minister at First Lutheran Church, Marshall, Minn. This article first ran in the fall 2019 issue of Interchange, which you can download here. (Scroll down a bit.) Learn more about domestic abuse at welca.org/domesticviolence.
Feature image from the Domestic Violence Awareness Project.