Updated: Nov 2, 2018
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. With this post, I share my story.
"Often, we don’t realize who we are meant to be because we are too busy trying to live out someone else’s ideas." - Oprah Winfrey
Who on earth is not familiar with Tina Turner's iconic song, "What's Love Got to do With It?" You can't hear that song and not see the amazing actress Angela Bassett taking on Tina's character sharing her story of abuse with the world as scenes of her ex-husband Ike, who was played by Lawrence Fishbourne, drags poor Tina (Angela Bassett) across the floor, punches her and even smudges cake in face. It was horrible to watch that.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime. The NCADV and countless other organizations and individuals come together during the month of October to raise awareness about domestic violence while also honoring the victims and sharing their stories. A great goal of these efforts is to strengthen the laws and policies that protect victims and their families in hopes of preventing this epidemic from continually occurring.
In October 1987, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed. ... Such legislation has passed every year since with National Coalition Against Domestic Violence providing key leadership in this effort. Each year, the Day of Unity is celebrated the first Monday of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. - Domestic Violence Awareness Project
Once Upon a Time
For twenty years, the first twenty of my adult life to be exact, I was a wife and a mother. I was a naïve girl who eventually became a woman who seemingly had everything. I was married to a handsome man and we had two amazing sons, who were spitting images of their father. We lived in a large spacious custom-built house and drove nice cars. Married young, we had spent the bulk of our years together struggling and scrounging our way to achieve the middle glass status we’d always hope for. We cheered our boys on at sports games, volunteered at school events, shared countless holidays dinners with extended family and worshipped together at church on Sundays. We were living the American dream.
What Lies Beneath
Beneath the surface of our perceived perfection existed a hot molten bed of lava bubbling over with lies, deception, and regret. Then one day it all erupted, eventually coming to a daunting crashing halt that left me all alone staring at myself and not recognizing the person’s peering back at me. I wondered out loud “who’s that girl?”
I had lived inside this life for twenty years, when my late husband and oldest son passed away I had no idea who I was. I had learned to live a lie that was no longer necessary to tell. No need to pretend to be happily married and have it all together, so now what? No need to cover up my brokenness with a wide smile, so now what? Why bother keeping up the charade that told the world I was perfect. Far from it, I never was but boy was I good at pretending.
Our years together were not blissful. He felt his youth was stolen from him and blamed me. I felt that I would never be good enough for him.
It Wasn’t all that Bad
They say victims find excuses to live with their pain, often blaming it on themselves. The blame can become so loud that they mask it by trying to be everything they can for those who hurt them to stop that hurt from coming. They create temporary bandages for long term wound that never heal by becoming workaholics or over achievers attempting to mask their pain by keeping busy, holding their head down and just trying to stay out of the line of fire. “Don’t say or do anything to set him off, just smile, be good, do everything you can to keep the peace,” my daily affirmation. I found that in maintaining this practice, we had some good times, so it wasn’t all that bad.
The signs of domestic abuse are not always so obvious. "Domestic abuse is about controlling someone’s mind and emotions as much as hurting their body. Being abused can leave you scared and confused. It can be hard for you to see your partner’s actions for what they really are."
My late husband had a big heart for people. He had a big sense of humor and a very giving nature. He cared deeply for his family and his broad muscular stance stood strong against the winds of life as he proudly coveted the title of being our super-hero. Beyond all of his goodness, his most prominent trait was a hot temper. It did not take much to flare him up. I don’t think I ever figured out what would trigger it. There were times when out of complete silence he would storm up. He never actually hit me though. The occasional pushing, shoving, grabbing me by my arm to make a point or screaming at me, well I learned to handle that. We would always make up by simply moving on to the next day, often acting as if nothing bad had ever happened. He would peck me on the cheek with something that resembled a kiss or make some silly joke to make me laugh. Then there were the times when he would say and do things that made me feel so very small and insignificant. I would retaliate by overcompensating trying to be and do everything for him, for us. Yet I knew that no matter what I did, I was someone who could never make him happy and that just tore me apart inside. I did not know it at the time, but this was a form of mental and emotional abuse. Funny thing is, I don't think he knew it either.
“In order to transform who you are on the outside, you’ve got to change what is on the inside.”
Despite the disfunction in my first marriage, I loved my late husband deeply. I would
have stood in the rain for him or given my right arm if he needed me to. I stood by him without question until his bitter end with cancer.
I have no regrets because I know God loved him. He is now resting peacefully with our late son and all is well. Losing him and the life I knew was devastating but I persevered. I reckoned with the fact that I was a widow almost immediately. I put on my big girl panties and realized that if I was going to move on with my life, I needed
to make some changes. I had to start within because no amount of makeup or fancy clothes was going to get me anywhere near the woman God was transforming me into.
As I evolve, I am going deep into the dark places to break free of the past. I am venturing into those corners of my mind where the true essence of who I am went into hiding years ago. It is in those places where I hid my hopes and desires, my gifts and my talents. I am now on this journey to self. I am pushing past through various levels of hurt and pain in my life and learning to be open and honest with myself about my experiences.
Yes, I still hesitate to admit it, but it is true that I suffered an abusive situation. However, sharing my truth, which is my experience, is not meant to bring dishonor to my late husband. One could say that he too was a victim because in all my taking his abusive behavior, I fought back with words that I know were hurtful towards him.
Mental and emotional scars are not as easily hidden as some physical ones that other victims may carry. You see, these scars show through your actions, the way you carry yourself and your ability to function well in your other relationships and life experiences.
While my story may pale in comparison to the countless other women and men who suffer abuse and violence in our world, it is still one that needed to be told. Abuse starts with the mind and can grow into other more violent forms.
By God’s grace, I am an overcomer.
I recently played the role of a battered woman in a skit at Turner Chapel AME Church in Marietta, GA. Unbeknownst to the casting director, I was not far removed the role. At one point in my life I knew such pain so that experience came forth effortlessly in this character. It was hard to see myself all made up with a black eye, bloody nose and scar about my mouth. The physical part of it was not as difficult to take in as being reminded of my real-life experience.
I would come to tears driving home after rehearsals as the role forced me to recall instances of hurt from my own painful past. On the day of the show I was fully engulfed into the character of this sad, pitiful broken woman who had fallen into a life of hopelessness and despair. In the end, my character fell on her knees pleading for God to save her and restore her life. When she, the character, found her strength I relived the experience in that very moment. I was no longer acting as I heard the voice of the character, the battered woman, speaking through me, shouting “no more, never again will I live this way,” ending the scene in high praise!
There was a couple of hundred women in the audience that day. I believe many of them were moved by the dramatic presentation that also featured women breaking free from drug and alcohol abuse.
Truth in Miracles
I am now happily remarried to a wonderful man. He treats me like a queen and together we love and honor God and each other. Everyday when I look at my now husband Dwayne, I know that there is truth in miracles. For anyone to be strong enough to not merely just love, but be truly deeply in love with this broken winged little bird is just astonishing.
After years of being alone I never thought I could love again or even come close to allowing myself to be loved. When we met I was on a lonely cobble-stoned road to oneness; every brick embedded along that loveless path had been hand-molded by my own guilt, self-denial, blame and low self-esteem. As far as I was concerned that suited me just fine. After all that had been said and done in my life it felt like the only way to travel if this world was to remain my home. Honestly, I liked it there. Besides, I didn't even know what love had to do with my life anymore. Then God stepped in and turned everything around. It's like, I looked up one day and there was this amazing light shining from above casting a warm glow all around me. Dwayne was right there in the midst of it waiting with his arms reaching out for me. He was on his own journey and invited me to join him in taking on life God's way. Gently lifting me up, he encouraged me to learn how to love myself first. Together we began mending my broken wings so I could fly again! By God's grace we are soaring together! I was able to start over again and live the life that God created, just for me, and so can you!
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence please seek help through prayer as well as any of the many resources available online such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.7233 or thehotline.org, womenshealth.org, and Family Violence Prevention & Services Resource Centers.
Be sure to check out this week's podcast "Breaking Free" where I am talking with "Sara" another woman who was able to find her strength towards freedom. Listen with me as she shares her story of faith in overcoming domestic violence.