A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Trying to Escape When You Can’t Explain – by Katy

One of our readers, Katy, has very kindly sent us this story.

In the beginning of my marriage I had no clue what abuse was, nor that I was being abused. I did not have the vocabulary for what was happening to me. I am also a very introverted person so I think this added to my difficulty. Although my husband physically threatened me early in the marriage, I believed that I was not being abused because he didn’t follow through on the threat.

The only thing I knew for sure was that he was “cruel”. This was the only word I had to describe my daily interactions with him. After a year of marriage and the birth of our first child, I made my first escape attempt. That afternoon he had been particularly nasty, yelling into my face for a long period of time. He hovered 2-3 inches away from my face but was careful not to touch me. He kept up the yelling and followed me around the house, keeping his mouth 2-3 inches from my head the whole time as I tried to shield myself. I remember him yelling things like “How do you like this? Huh? I’m going to make you pay! I’m going to give you a taste of your own medicine!” (I can’t remember what started this tirade – I wasn’t allowed to have opinions so that usually provoked him. Even now, looking back on this episode, I have struggled to put it into words.)

After a while I was crying. My instincts were to slap/shove him to stop the abuse (although I didn’t dare), and I felt this proved that I was an evil wife because I wanted to strike my own husband! He finally left me in a heap on the bedroom floor, apparently satisfied for the moment. He went back to work in the backyard on a shed he was building. I was cowering in the house, crying, begging God to help me. I kept saying over and over again “He’s so cruel. He’s so cruel”. I had no other words. It was totally confusing.

At that moment I just wanted to flee. I had no other thoughts in my head besides getting away from him. I grabbed my infant daughter, threw some clothes in a bag, and snuck out the front door. My car was parked out front. I quickly got in the car and took off.

My parents lived 3 states away. I had no other friends or family. I got on the highway and headed toward my parents, but stopped at a gas station to make a collect call. (I did not have a cell.) My dad answered the phone. The conversation went like this:

“Dad. Please let me come. I have to leave. He’s cruel dad.”

“Katy what do you mean? Did you have a fight?”

[Here’s where I start floundering. “fight” is not the right word for this]

“It’s not a fight. Not a fight! He’s CRUEL Dad! I can’t explain!”

“Well did he hit you?” – [he says this calmly, like he’s talking to a young child, and I know that I’m failing]

“No he doesn’t hit me. But. .. but”

“Well then I’m sorry. You can’t come here. You can’t run away from your marriage. If you’re having a fight you need to work it out. I will pay for you to see a marriage counselor if you need it.”

So I turned my car around, because I had nowhere else to go. I cried the whole way back.

When I got there, I discovered my dad had called the house and talked to my husband and offered to pay for marriage counseling. My dad said he “wasn’t taking sides”. I knew then that it was over. Unless my husband started beating me, there was no way out. I stayed another 6 years, and had two more children, before things got bad enough and my parents accepted that we had to get away.

Even now, my parents don’t really understand “abuse” the way that I do. My dad had a terrible temper when I was growing up, and treated us badly, so my parents don’t understand the abusive mindset (of entitlement and control). They view a bad temper as a character flaw that needs some counseling, and my dad was raised Catholic so he still has some Catholic attitudes about marriage and self-sacrifice.

I am going to break the generational cycle of ignorance and abuse, by raising my daughter and sons to understand the abusive mindset and red flags. Whatever else life brings, I don’t want them to suffer needlessly under a yoke of evil! I love my parents and I don’t blame them, but this has taught me a great lesson in trusting and validating my children’s experiences without discounting what they say.

When we meet evil face-to-face, we often don’t have the language to express it. I could easily have said that my husband was evil, but if you call another person “Evil” you risk not being taken seriously. “Cruel” was the only other word that I had. Now I have another word: ABUSE.

23 Comments

  1. That conversation with your father made my stomach hurt to read. I’m so sorry you had to hear that from someone that you trusted. I never got that kind of thing from family, but from others I trusted- you just feel so helpless and like a failure all a the same time. It is a sickening feeling. I remember just wanting it all to stop- if I could just make them understood what it felt like . . .

    The burden shouldn’t be on the victim to explain the pain.

    Some lines from a song I wrote (because that is one way I process things):

    Who was I to you that you thought I should suffer?
    I came to you for hope, when I left I was a failure
    I asked that you would come and speak in my defense
    Instead you put me on the stand and took me through it all again

    • Katy

      thanks Jeff, it’s true – when you go to the only people that know you, that you trust, and they turn you away it’s a frightening experience. In a sense – I felt that God had turned his face away from me. And since I lived that way for many years afterward, I felt that confirmed that God did not care about me or hear me.

    • MeganC

      Jeff — I don’t think any other words could describe it better. Thank you.

  2. iamdarlene

    I can almost feel your pain. I am so sorry some people are so cruel…(abusive). God bless you!

  3. Oh Katy, this just makes me want to weep. I have been the victim of the same spirit in my husband – I have a chronic pain disease and heart disease, and before he began to hit me, he used to purposely frighten me to trigger painful episodes and angina, and then say, “What? I didn’t touch you!”. He was supported by his family, who agreed with him that it wasn’t his aggression and anger, kicked in doors, broken dishes, smashed furniture, that was causing my stress-induced symptoms, it was my irrational and un-Christ-like fears.

    I know how hard it is, and am proud of you for leaving. Your father’s response to you is heart-breaking. You are so brave, and wise to raise your children differently and to break the pattern of aggression, abuse and confusion. Blessings to you, dear Katy. God is with you. ❤

    • MeganC

      Yes. I agree with Kelly. There is victory in this post. Your children will rise up and call you blessed! You are in mid-stream of changing a generation for GOOD. That is HUGE.

  4. Now Free

    Katy, before or shortly after we married, out of the blue my mother informed me that if I ever have any problems in my marriage, do not go to them for help. I was surprised as I had not mentioned any problems. My father also had a bad temper, but I won’t go into any details here. So I know what it’s like to have parents who did not want to get involved.

    When I left my husband, I did not ask my mother if I could stay with her, but fortunately had enough money to stay in a cheap hotel.

    • Katy

      My heart breaks for you that your mother told you that. I wonder if she was cut off and alone in her own marriage as well.
      Just another reason for me to be open to my daughter no matter how old we get.

  5. Anon

    Katy, it’s strange, but I actually find it more helpful now to use the word “cruel” because it seems to resonate with people who haven’t got a clue about abuse. When I used the word “abuse”, people started asking what “abuse” was, did he hit me, etc, and the focus was all on him and how we could help him change since he was “abusive”. Some people immediately think you’re exaggerating or using loaded terms, or worse, that you have been hanging around those feminists. Now I tend to use the word “cruel” more as even kids understand that “cruel” is really mean and not acceptable.

    So sorry about your father’s response. I am eternally thankful that my father, not a Christian, supported me totally and never condones abusive behavior, even though he believes in being faithful through thick and thin. Unfortunately, he was sickly and could not give much help. I turned to my fathers-in-Christ, though, who gave me the same response as your father – “not taking sides”, “both have to work it out”, “bad temper is a character flaw that must be dealt with, with the support of a patient and loving wife”, etc.

    I loved what you said about breaking the generational cycle and listening to your kids so you don’t discount them. Right now, I have to remind myself to do the same because they’re the ones having to put up with the cruelty during the visitations. Sometimes, so I don’t get accused of alienation in court, I try to “not take sides” and try to excuse the dad’s behavior, but my son has telling me about his meanness and cruelty, and this is a reminder to listen and validate him. It’s so hard that we can flee but we can’t rescue our little ones 😦

  6. Katy

    Oh I understand about abuse being a loaded term – seems like all the words we could use (abusive, evil, cruel) are simply not taken seriously by people who don’t live with it. So it’s more about having an arsenal of words that might get the point across.
    It’s funny – people take things like “animal cruelty” very seriously, don’t they. You don’t even have to use lots more words to explain that – people get it and understand.

  7. This testimony pretty much sums up my 22 year marriage and my distant relationship with my Catholic parents. It’s true that when you are an introverted person, and for me that was caused largely by the abuse in my childhood, you don’t have a voice.

    You don’t know how to find your voice when you desperately want one and you don’t know how to answer others who mount up greater injustices in the face of the ones that you are already trying to deal with.

    Abusers, they are all around us and they come in all forms, families, jobs and churches, it’s easy to recognize them because they are the ones with the loudest voices, the most to say and the impulsive need to define others according to their own mind sets and because abusers are void of empathy, they do not understand the heart of a victim who actually has no voice.

  8. I am so deeply sorry, Katy. I could literally feel your pain, fear, and helplessness as I read this. I’m so sorry that you were put in that position. And, I deeply respect your determination as a mother, your strength, and your growth. What a beautiful testimony you are to other survivors!

  9. Healinginprocess

    Katy, I’m so sorry you had to not only go through what you did with your husband, the abuse but it broke my heart and I cried when you said your dad told you you could not come home and he told your husband he was not taking sides. I can’t imagine how alone and broken you must have felt.

    I am so greatful for my parents support after I told them what was happening in my home with my abusive husband . Without their help I would not have been able to leave. They continue to support me and do not want their daughter or 4 grandchildren in that situation. I am deeply appreciative of my families support and the 3 very close friends who have been supporting me through leaving, divorcing and healing.

    My heart and prayers go out to you.

  10. Just Me

    Katy, Thank you for putting words to this. I also struggle with not being able to explain it. And he used to follow me around the house too, although not as horrificly as your husband did. I used to get to a point in our arguments (because they’re so nonsensical and circular–you can’t reason with an unreasonable person) that I would just say that I needed a break and walk away. He would follow me anywhere I went in the house, just a foot or so behind me, taunting me.

  11. Lisa

    I understand and have felt this pain…….I think alot of survivors, Christian or not, have felt it. But to have someone that is, or claims to be a believer and say these things, I believe, feels so much worse. I believe the abuse touches on our very soul and creates a confusion of our own relation to God. That has been my experience. I feel like alot of the Christian community let me down, including my parents. Even though I understand the thinking behind the belief, my spiritual life has been damaged as a result and I’m sure many others have had the same experience. However, even with all the hurt, we can thrive in our survivel and be strong in our own belief that Jesus has not given us a spirit of fear but of power,love, and a sound mind. Thank You for sharing, it helps to know we are not alone in this abusive crud

    • iamdarlene

      Lisa, Thank you for saying the following…” However, even with all the hurt, we can thrive in our survivel and be strong in our own belief that Jesus has not given us a spirit of fear but of power,love, and a sound mind.” I agree that abuse touches our very soul.

      There was a time I thought I was too hard for even God to fix. One day as I was leafing through my Bible I came across Jeremiah 32:17. At the end of this verse it says, “there is nothing too hard for Thee”. After I read that I thought, “even me”. I clung to this verse through some very difficult times. Jeremiah 32:17 is as true today as it was then.

      • Barnabasintraining

        “there is nothing too hard for Thee”.

        Amen!

  12. MeganC

    Katy . . . Thank you so much for sharing your story. I read it yesterday and then read it again today. I was not sure what to comment . . . your story of the first time you left resonated with me deeply. The first time I tried to leave, I, too, had no knowledge . . . no vocabulary for what he was doing to me. I knew things were BAD. That was how I described it. When my youngest was a newborn, I loaded up all four kids into the van and drove around. I called my grandmother who said we could come for a “visit”. She wasn’t about to let me stay longer than that. My cell phone was ringing off the hook because my ex had called everyone in my family and everyone in my life who had any sort of “sway” over me. I, too, went home . .. there was nowhere else to go and I felt like I was completely outnumbered . . . no one on my side. It is an awful feeling. AWFUL. (I am so sorry you have not had the complete support you needed from your folks. It is terribly lonely when that happens.) When I returned, his grip tightened and I found he had contacted EVERYONE in my extended family and his. Those were the seeds . . . planted by an abuser . . . that would make me look “crazy” three years later when I left for good. It is a strange, ironic relief when you finally have that word for what had been happening . . . that abuse.

    • I, too, had no knowledge . . . no vocabulary for what he was doing to me. I knew things were BAD

      The domestic violence agency in my state has a flyer for for teenagers called Something Not Right At Home? [Internet Archive link] To me, that is a great title for someone who is living in the fog.

      I would love to see a pamphlet titled “Trouble At Home?” for adult women who are living in abusive relationships but don’t realise that it is abuse. Maybe one exists somewhere, or maybe I’ve just dreamed about it.

  13. Still Scared( but getting angry)

    I remember the epiphany of finding a word to describe what had always been going on in my marriage. I had been trying repeatedly to explain to a pastor that was counseling us( separately praise God0 and my “accountability partner” (who believed me at first but when it meant i was going to divorce first and I didn’t immediately think that him saying he was sorry meant that he had changed..well, she still thinks I acted in sin). Anyway, I had been trying and trying to explain to them how “communication problems” and “habit patterns” weren’t the issue. I would try to describe incidences and it just didn’t sink in, they had no frame of reference. Then I discovered the word emotional abuse and websites/ forums about ti. I kept doing checklists and shared it all with them..I wan’t alone in this others had been in this same weird place( took me a long time to admit the sexual abuse and I am just starting to skate around that). It was a wonderful lightbulb moment. Sigh, they still never got it but my pastor does and other friends do. My parents always supported me but are now grasping this concept.

  14. Barnabasintraining

    I think the word “cruel” is excellent. So much so I decided to do a dictionary search for synonyms. Here’s the list from Merriam-Webster:

    atrocious, barbaric, barbarous, brutal, brute, butcherly, fiendish, heartless, inhuman, inhumane, sadistic, savage, truculent, vicious, wanton, red in tooth and claw

    And related words:

    hard-hearted, ironhearted, merciless, pitiless, ruthless, stonyhearted, unfeeling; fell, ferocious, grim; bloodthirsty, cutthroat, murderous, sanguinary, sanguine; catty, despiteful, hateful, malevolent, malicious, malign, malignant, mean, nasty, spiteful, vindictive; draconian, draconic, hardhanded, harsh, heavy-handed, oppressive

    • Oh BIT, you and I are twin sisters! I am a logophile too! (logophile = word lover; a new word I discovered only the other day)
      When I separated from my first husband for the final time, I searched dictionaries and thesauruses as part of my personal therapy – I just started to do it for curiosity and found it so immensely therapeutic that I kept going. It was fog-dispelling to read and think about all the words that describe abuse. I remember finding several new words for verbal abuse: contumely, opprobrium, and there were others that I can’t remember now.
      In those days I was writing in a pen and paper journal, so the lists I made are not easy for me to find and paste here right now. 😦

      • Now Free

        Oh, I also love learning new words! This is from my favourite on-line dictionary for “abusive”: (thefreedictionary.com)

        1. violent, wild, rough, cruel, savage, brutal, vicious, destructive, harmful, maddened, hurtful, unrestrained, impetuous, homicidal, intemperate, raging, furious, injurious, maniacal, – her cruel and abusive husband

        2. insulting, offensive, rude, degrading, scathing, maligning, scolding, affronting, contemptuous, disparaging, castigating, reviling, vilifying, invective, scurrilous, defamatory, insolent, derisive, censorious, slighting, libellous, upbraiding, vituperative, reproachful, slanderous, traducing, opprobrious, calumniating, contumelious

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