Post Separation Abuse: My Experience and How I am Trying to Overcome
When I left my husband in Europe, I was completely unprepared for what I have heard Barbara call “Post Separation Abuse”. Somehow, I thought that, if I left, he would be gone — vanish completely out of my life and we would all be better! This was a highly naive thought. As we all know and I have seen discussed at length, leaving an abusive spouse is highly stressful. We lose friends, lose family members, lose our standing in church . . . often lose our things, respect from others, time with our children. And, our children! They need double love once we take that very brave step. The pressure mounts and the stress levels rise. However difficult it is though, we gain our freedom, which is priceless. No matter what the cost, it is so worth it.
I struggled deeply when I first left. I took my four kids, four suitcases and traveled alone from Germany to Colorado, USA, not knowing what we would face or where I would find help. Within just a day or two of landing, “Dan” had contacted all of my family members and, somehow, allied himself with them. I was shocked that he had taken such effort. I was still on shaky ground . . . I had made the decision and I still was not sure if it was the right one . . . and then my uncle suggested I get “help”, as I had crazily packed up my children and left my seemingly godly husband. I was flailing. I could barely keep my spinning head about the waters of insanity. I found myself defending myself constantly and to everyone . . . I became drained from telling my hidden story of abuse over and over . . . and I could not seem to stop doing it. I so desperately wanted someone to be on my side! I barely knew ANYONE outside of the fundamental denomination in which I was so deeply entrenched. I had one or two valuable “lone wolves” that were carrying me at this point but they were both far away. I felt helpless and terribly afraid.
I received letter after letter from “concerned church-goers” who insisted I was in sin. Letters like this one:
Something you probably know, but beware people that rally behind you to tell you how “right ” you are. You may be doing the right thing, but people should be coming to you humbly, compassionately, sacrificailly and telling you that this time is for you to examine your sin alone, and not to look at the sins of Dan. That your heart is the one that is responsible to be blameless. I am only expressing this to you at this time, because I am concerned with so many people coming at you stressed and panicked that the truth may be hard to see. It is late, but I will try and send scripture behind that.
I believe there is some freedom in leaving a situation for a time to try and get help for your spouse, or to get your children to a safe place. But your foremost responsibility is to pursue your husband lovingly, and selflessly as Christ pursued you, with a gentle, and kind heart. If you are not being confronted with your sin right now, if you are not looking at only your own sin right now you are in extreme danger. All of us are sinners, you WILL NOT be healed until you look to your own sin. Megan, even you, who I love dearly, have a deceitful heart, and if you tell yourself that you can understand your own heart than you have already been deceived. Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” This road is hard.
This confusing spiritual abuse continued for months and months. I could hardly stand it. Here I was trying to find a job, provide for my children, care for their deep heart-wounds and defending myself constantly. I lost weight; I developed early onset arthritis and a cyst on my side that was benign but had scared me!
I had not learned how to set boundaries, yet. Had not even heard that it was “permissible”.
What made things worse were the emails, phone calls, letters, gifts and text messages I was getting from my then husband. It was constant. And he did his mischief in a pointed and, rather evil, way. For instance, I would get a string of text messages in the middle of the night. Caught off guard and vulnerable, I would shake terribly and be unable to rest for hours. His messages to the children and me were highly manipulative. He called and spoke to every friend of mine he thought he could use to “win” me back. (I put “win” in quotes because his version of winning me over was to make me out to be a harlot sinner and then graciously offer to take me back!)
At this point in my post, I would like to say that I feel very blessed Dan does not live on this continent (although this does create some other unique international messes). I have friends whose ex husbands show up on their doorsteps regularly; who harass; who insert themselves into the daily lives of these precious women. To that, I wonder if there is a way for a man of God to step in and protect these precious souls? And, why is this not happening more often? But, that is another post . . .
This constant aggression from church-goers and my ex went on for months and then, one day I realized . . . He is still abusing me.
I left . . . but I still allowed him to control me every day. Around that time, someone made a nonchalant comment about how some women are manipulated by their ex husbands their entire lives. I desperately did not want to be one of those women . . .
I got a lot of help and sweeping, thick boundaries started popping up all over the place. Phone numbers were blocked then changed. No more phone calls allowed; no more texting. Our communication was minimal from that point on and ONLY about the children. I am training myself to disregard 98% of what comes from my abusive ex. I keep things short and pointed and I simply refuse to allow him to control my emotions anymore! I also ask for assistance. I ask others to “screen” his messages, which is highly helpful. If he comes at me with anger and tirades, I am learning to stay cool and level-headed. It often makes him angrier. But, I am beginning to disregard it and I no longer cover for him so he only just makes himself look like the abusive man he is. I have to ask Jesus for a lot of strength; I could not do this on my own.
If I could relive the past 16 months, I would have chosen one or two trusted people with whom to share my burdens. I did not realize that some people don’t really care about me . . . they just want the scoop. It becomes exhausting. I have learned how to say, “Thanks for your interest but I don’t want to talk about it.” My children and I need all of my emotional energy. I do not just pass it out liberally anymore.
I don’t have it all figured out, yet. And I still have my up’s and down’s. I am feeling stronger each day as I train myself to become wholly free from his domination. And, as for the church-goers . . . surprise to me that I do not have to stay friends with the entire world! If they make you feel unsafe in ANY WAY, block them, ignore them, do whatever it takes to find the space and secure setting you need to catch you breath.
And then, breathe.