What Constitutes Abuse?

We throw the term around. “Abuse.” But what really constitutes abuse?

I can tell you that, while my ex-husband would disagree, I suffered a lot of verbal and emotional abuse over the years. I don’t say it lightly at all.

I mentioned his body shaming. He might say he was was thoughtless or insensitive. I say he systematically used insults to  keep the upper hand in the relationship. For him, everything in life is a competition, and our marriage became a battleground.

For him, fat, cellulite,  and stretch marks were a moral issue. What I ate was a moral issue. I had no business putting extra food in my mouth if my skin wasn’t taut. And it wasn’t. Not since I’d been a preteen. It was the perfect storm coming together of me being insecure and him using that insecurity to maintain control over me.

Boobs like “flaps.” Big  legs. A square butt. It was “gross” the way my tummy puckered after having 3 children. The fat on my inner thigh. My feet so ugly I had to always wear socks. Legs so fat I couldn’t wear shorts.

He said I was big,fat, lazy, ugly and stupid. He said I disgusted him. When we went somewhere, he would walk in front of me because he was embarrassed to be seen with me.

Money is usually at the root of most marital quarrels, and it truly was in our marriage. There was a difference in philosophy for sure, but it was more than that. He made the money decisions in the family. I would ask permission to make purchases and mostly, his knee-jerk reaction was “no.” He thought I would spend money like crazy if he didn’t keep me on a tight leash. He would circle purchases on the credit card he deemed bad purchases, and ask me to “explain myself.”

 

Everything had to be his way. My preferences weren’t optional because they were wrong. Whenever I tried to do something, he would tell me I was wrong. So I would do nothing. And that was wrong too.

Im leaving out a lot of what he said and did the last year out of fairness to him.

Yes, this is a dude who hasn’t missed a church service in 30 years. Everyone thinks he’s a “great guy.”  He helps in soup kitchens. Need to move? He’ll be there at 8 am on Saturday morning.

He describes himself as “humble” and “compassionate.”

Meanwhile I was dying a little every day.

So, I suppose perception is nine tenths of the law. To me it was abuse because it systematically destroyed my self esteem. It drove me to the depths of despair.

It didn’t stop there. He used criticism to control me. I tried so many times to tell him that it wasn’t motivating for me to hear constant criticism. Once again he made it into a moral issue. If his intent was to try to make me better, then it wasn’t criticism.

Dinners were especially awful. Not only would he criticize my cooking, but he would encourage the kids to do so also. A practice they haven’t disposed of entirely to this day. Time and again I tried to tell him how it made me feel, but it was deigned to be my own fault for not being able to take it.

He would drive aggressively in the car, and when I reacted, he would chastise me and tell me I didn’t trust him. He didn’t care about my comfort.in fact, I think he enjoyed scaring me.

He would flirt with waitresses in front of me.

He would make a comment like ” you’re a terrible singer, and when I objected, he would say “Gosh, can’t you take a joke?”

When we went places, he would ignore me and talk to other people. Afterwards, he would tell me what I did and said ‘wrong’ that embarrassed him.

As I state these things, they sound horrible. They were. I’m sure some of it was out of frustration on his part. But the fundamental callous attitude with regard to my feelings was permeable.

I ignored the red flags when we were dating. I didn’t know myself well enough. I had a trust that when he proposed to me it was because he loved me and could put his physical hangups aside and be devoted to me. I was wrong. He really didn’t love me. He admits this. I was naive. I thought he felt the same about me as I felt about him. I was wrong.

The end result of all of this is that I rebelled. I spent a lot of money on things I couldn’t afford. I got morbidly obese. I also abused substances. He really only cared about the money component. He didn’t care about me.

I didn’t get up and decide to do these things to him. These things weren’t planned. I just couldn’t cope anymore and my bad habits and addictions were fueled by hopelessness and despair. That’s not me making an excuse. I’m not proud of myself and I’ve worked hard to turn my life around.

I know my addictions were fueled by his treatment of me because when I left that environment and went to a place where I was loved and nurtured, I got sober and strong. That’s how I know.

In AA we talk about not taking another person’s inventory. I do agree with that. But I think this attitude of just making a list of my resentments and praying for him wasn’t helpful when I needed help desperately.

This isn’t about finding a scapegoat. I think I’ve talked a lot about my issues here. I’ve certainly worked hard to overcome them. If it seems like I haven’t accepted responsibility for my actions, I have. I’ve made amends to the best of my ability. Now all I can do is continue to make amends and live my life well.

I have a lot of forgiveness for him today. I’m not angry and bitter. I was. But I laid all of that to rest. I really did.

I think it’s important to shine a light on this kind of abuse. Especially since it occurred in a so-called Christian marriage in the church. We know God hates divorce. But he hates abuse too. He hates all sin. Including mine. And being married to a bipolar, alcoholic is no picnic. The church had no idea how to deal with the two of us. Do I need a scapegoat? No. I know what I did, I know who I am. I know I’m forgiven. By God. I know I’ve changed and I know God has blessed me with a second chance.

I was at the hairdressers this week and the lady who does my hair is a Christian and she’s known me for 30 years. She’s a joy. I was saying to her that in my marriage today I have a closeness, a warmness and I wonder ‘Is this normal? Is this special? Because it feels special.’ She said ‘It’s normal!’

Praise God!

What Constitutes Abuse?

Change is Hard

I don’t know how to tell someone to change. I’ve changed a lot, but I think it’s mostly been that I was open and cooperative with God. It’s not easy, that’s for sure.

I was thinking today about the fact that I’ve been able to let go of so much anger and unforgiveness.  How is that even possible? I guess I’d have to point to the 12 steps. It’s a process of looking at your own stuff, taking responsibility, being humble and keeping your own counsel.

I really gave it to my ex-husband though. I called him names and railed against him for everything I was angry about. It didn’t do any good. He didn’t apologize to me. It made me feel better temporarily, but it was when I made the decision to stop trying to get even that I started on the journey to forgiveness.

I told myself over and over that Jesus stood before his accusers and said nothing. He could have defended himself easily. He could have shut all of their mouths. They were wrong, and He knew it. He took it. Thank God he did, because we would be lost if He hadn’t.

So it began by keeping my own counsel. In AA they talk about the ‘restraint of pen and tongue.’ How true! I would have made a lot of progress earlier in my life if I had understood that wisdom.

The second nugget that was helpful was on acceptance. I’ve quoted it here before. ‘Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.’ It’s hard to accept that your life isn’t the way you would like, with people all treating you the way you would like, but in the end, we are mostly a bunch of sick, sinful people trying to get along in life with our own fears and insecurities. We hurt each other, not because we are cruel, but because essentially our own lives are unmanageable.

I’m happier today because I’ve been able to set aside my own agenda and substitute God’s. Ultimately it’s about trusting Him. His ways are definitely not our ways, but they are infinitely better.

Change is Hard

Guy Talk

You know, there is a conversation in America right now that is important. That’s the issue of ‘guy talk.’ There are a lot of angry women in America, and they have some valid points. As Christian women, we need to have this conversation. That is, that ‘guy talk’ is not ok.

We elected a man who has made many, many comments denigrating women. His comments aren’t ok, and women are angry. As they well should be. Because this kind of talk hurts women. It devalues them. It’s inappropriate in any setting. It shouldn’t be blown off.

At the same time, men have been winking and nodding forever. It has never been front stage like this before. But it has been a part of the culture. So, let’s take this opportunity to say that it’s not ok, and we aren’t going to accept it as part of the culture or a wink and a nod. Our men have to stand up and say that they are going to value women more than that.

I do think there’s a bit of a double standard, however. When the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, the Clinton machine mowed her down. She was a young, impressionable intern, starstruck and totally taken advantage of. Bill and Hillary Clinton threw her to the wolves. Hillary did it too and she was a part of it because of her own political aspirations. It ruined her life. She has never married, and has been unable to have a career. It’s shameful. Where were the feminists then?

Let’s make sure we’re fair about this, and let’s have this conversation. It’s important.

Guy Talk

The Past

I almost never write about my ex-husband. That’s because his issues are his journey, and my kids don’t agree with me about what happened, and I don’t want to hurt them. Not that they have ever read this, but they might one day and I don’t want to hurt them. But today I feel I can write about something fairly and honestly and it’s something that hurts women and needs to be said.

My ex-husband has sex addiction. He has struggled with it since he was a teenager and found pornographic magazines in a fort in the woods. It changed the way he viewed women and it impacted our marriage in a very negative way.

When we had been dating for about 6 months, I had lost a few pounds and was feeling good about myself. I said something to him about it and he said “the fat on the back of your leg still jiggles.”

I should have ended the relationship then and there. It would have saved me years of grief. But I chose to believe him. I then embarked on a journey of lies that almost killed me.

Every time I got up in the morning and got on the scale I hated myself. I was embarrassed to go out in public. I was thinking about how I looked all the time. He was only too eager to help me. He would tell me when an outfit made me look fat and I would dispose of it.

I would go on unhealthy diets and starve myself to lose weight. I would exercise like crazy.

My weight would go up and down, but even when I was small, he would point out the imperfections, the cellulite, the stretch marks, things I couldn’t do anything about. It was hopeless. I gave up.

I used substances to kill the pain. The depression was great. I couldn’t get out of bed. I stopped parenting. I stopped bathing. I couldn’t get sober.

Now, there were other things going on as well. I did things I should never have done. Sinful things. Damaging things. Those were my choices. I had options and I didn’t take them. This wasn’t his fault. This was mine. I didn’t have the strength or the guts to do what I needed to do. I didn’t tell anybody. I take responsibility for my part. I had a part. When you are in a relationship, there are always two of you.

It’s astonishing to me that two Christians could go down this road in this manner and get so lost. All this time we were trying to raise Christian children. We knew the truth and we weren’t living it out, either of us.

Why am I writing about this now? Why do I feel free to do so? Well, yesterday, after being separated for 4 years and divorced, he phoned to apologize. He’s starting to see his part in it. He asked me what his sex addiction did to him for the first time and I told him very directly. He listened and he said he was sorry. He sounded broken.

I couldn’t believe I was hearing it.I never thought I would. The blessing of it all is that God has been healing me. In 2015, I met a man who fell in love with me at 248 pounds. He found me desirable and beautiful and he told me so over and over. And I believed him. It was very healing. I began to see myself as beautiful. He loved me. The me that’s inside. He saw that I’m smart and funny and a little wacky and he loved all of it. Just  me. The real me. It’s the kind of accepting love that God intends for us. The kind of love He has for us.

I lost the weight. I work out now. I work out a lot. But it’s because I love it. I’m in the best shape of my life. I weigh 142 pounds and I am medium sized and I am beautiful. I have a sagging stomach and thighs, but I have these beautiful biceps and quads. I can run 5 miles. I can cycle 50 miles. It feels so good to work my muscles and be strong and accomplish things. I never worked out that way before. It’s freeing.

I don’t need substances today. When upset, I run. I run as fast as I can and it feels good. I feel the air around me, I smell the outdoors, I feel my muscles pumping and it calms me.

When I go out in public, I put on clothes that are ‘me.’ I fix my hair and makeup and I feel good. Nobody is staring at me. I don’t think about my thighs. God has done a major work in me. Major. And he’s doing it in my ex-husband too.

How can the church address a situation like this? I can tell you that they tried. They really tried to help us and they couldn’t. That’s the dialog I’ve tried to have somewhat on this blog, and I’m not sure I’ve come up with any answers. Maybe it’s a conversation that needs to happen. I don’t know. I think talking about it is a start.

 

The Past

Judgement

I’m liking the idea of less judgement in my life. I find myself being that way more as I get older.

When I was younger I was pretty judgmental. I suppose it was because I hadn’t made that many mistakes yet. Now that I know what I am capable of, I’m more forgiving of myself and others.

i like GPS systems. For one, I’m geographically challenged and I save so much time not getting lost with them. But also I like that they aren’t judgmental.

when you go the wrong way, the GPS doesn’t yell at you. It doesn’t put you down and call you an idiot. It simply recalculated and gently gets you back on the right track.

ive been practicing meditation lately. One of the main points of meditation is to focus on your breathing and when you drift off as you are wont to do, gently bring yourself back to the breath. It’s not wrong to drift off. It happens. It’s what you do when it happens.

i let myself down and get off track, and others do in my life. How much better is it to gently help each other get back on the right track?

That’s the kind of world I want to live in.

Judgement