A Cry For Justice

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

Words I Choke On (or used to anyway)

Trigger alert.

This is an honest look at how I allowed my warped sense of these words and my conceit to control me and keep me in an unsafe marriage.

These are all words that stopped me in my tracks:

Abused

Abuse

Domestic Violence

Victim

Separated

Divorce

Divorce papers

Single mom

Ex

Child Support

—————————–

DA in the courthouse: Are you a lawyer?

Me: No.

DA: You’re the victim?

Me: (Deep breath because that knocked the wind out of me) Yes.

I was resistant to the abused victim label because I associated that title with, I don’t know, meth addicts or feeble minded folks who didn’t have the sense to get away. And to sound the alarm after decades of enduring it? That seemed to make me look like an even bigger fool. My snobbery enslaved me.

Same for every other word on that list. I had no desire to be an ex-wife. Ex-wives were hostile man-hating drunks in my mind. Child support was for people who didn’t love their kids enough to make their marriages work. Single mom? Might as well’ve said “prostitute.”

I was convinced that I HAD to stay. I thought my children’s salvation, his salvation, my salvation, depended on it. I made lists of all the tragic things that befall children of divorce. My staying was keeping those things at bay. Right? And in examining my list of ugly words and my visceral responses to those words, I believe I was using those terrible word associations the same way. I found all sorts of ways to stay. Vilifying the people who live every day with those words was one more way to muster the strength to try to withstand what I thought must be endured.

I am getting acclimated to those words. I can even utter the words “ex-husband” now. I still get tripped up with “we, our, us,” you know, the 1st person plural pronouns. I was part of a “we” for over half my life. Now I have friends who are “mutual friends of mine and X” instead of “our friends.” I’ll get used to this. The world did not collapse the day I took the title {deep breath}”ex-wife “{and exhale}. My children aren’t on the street corners in gangs marketing dime bags. God’s grace is more than enough. If He tells you to go, go! Even if you balk at the thought of being an X, go. I have found that being called “obedient” by the Creator of the universe cannot compare to being called “wife” by an abuser.

What words kept you trapped?

How have you found God’s grace at work as you learn to live in a world full of those words?

42 Comments

  1. Katy

    I didn’t want to be a “single mom” either. I had a lot of bad connotations attached to that word as well!
    The really big lies that I believed were “divorce is ALWAYS worse for kids than any other scenario” and “children of divorce are ruined and will never be able to have good marriages of their own”.
    I still struggle sometimes with fear of the future (of my kids) but as you say, being in a close relationship with God is far better than trying to keep our lives picture perfect.

    • Heather 2

      Katy, I stayed for over 20 years because I didn’t want my children to be children of divorce like I was. I made what I thought to be the best decision in those circumstances. When I finally divorced him they still experienced pain but they were adults.

      Trigger words for me, divorced, ex,
      forgiveness, sin, alimony, single. These
      words caused me to go to fear, guilt, and shame when I dwelled on them during vulnerable times. They were not supposed to be representative of my life. I felt a sense of failure.

      So I’m not sure if these words were experienced by me the same way you experienced them. I hope others will respond. It’s a good question.

  2. Brenda R

    Being the ex-wife–more than once. How could I have gotten myself into this kind of mess more than once. What if people know that I was married once before and am separating from yet another husband? It must be me? It couldn’t possibly be another husband. She is to blame–they aren’t all bad. And then I got this last night after telling him it was time for the men with white coats to fetch me, he had officially driven me crazy.

    NOT YET YOU HAVE A LIFE TIME WITH ME GETTING UNDER YOUR SKIN LOVE CAN DO FUNNY THING ISN’T IT GREAT TO HAVE LOVE GO GET SOME SLEEP LOVE YOU VERY MUCH FOREVER LOVE JOHN GOD PUT ME HERE FOR A REASON TO LOOK AFTER YOU GOOD NIGHT LOVE

    To me this was a serious threat. I could hear his voice saying these words even though it is an email. I will never be free of him.

  3. Renee

    Fantastic post, Ellie.
    I relate to all of it, as I felt the same warped way. Conditioned by society; well, “church”; to look judgmentally (with Christ-like concern, of course!) at the divorcees, single moms, children from “broken” homes, victims of abuse, etc….
    Wow. Was I ever woken up as I FINALLY divorced my abusive husband of 33 years!

    Freedom tastes sweet…. and also the freedom we have to embrace others with empathy and true compassion as we travel this similar journey that NONE of us desired to have a ticket for!

    Praises.

  4. speakingtruthinlove
  5. colleenr

    I don’t know about trigger words so much as ideals–I told myself SO many things to “help” me stay–since that is paramount. I didn’t want my children to be from a “broken home” (as if staying kept it from being broken!) I didn’t want to be a quitter or a failure, despite spending so much money on counselors with whom I worked on my own issues long after he had “lost confidence” in them or after he had told our pastor that what needed to happen for our marriage to be what God had originally intended was, “Honestly? She needs to change.” I didn’t want to participate in the American culture of easy divorce. I didn’t want to be part of the statistic of Christians divorcing at the same rate as “the world.” I sometimes told myself that I was in a long line of women who had suffered at the hands of men for centuries, that “worse things have happened to better people.”

    Of course words are hard too. I still find myself substituting vague phrases for “divorce.”. Even though I thought I was going crazy (literally) during my marriage, even though I stopped taking my antidepressants (without even trying) six months after filing for divorce, even though my migraines have stopped completely, even though I am palpably aware of how I am “slowly coming back to life,” it is hard for me to completely believe I was “abused” (except for while I am reading books on the subject) because I was not physically beaten. When I do choose to tell a (carefully chosen) friend that I was in a “verbally abusive” relationship, I still feel the need to explain what I mean and don’t mean or give examples of the damage (such as “I was married to someone who did a really good job convincing me there was something wrong with me”) so that I am less likely to be suspected of false accusations or just being misunderstood….

    And yet, I am starting to enjoy referring to him as simply “my ex.” It isn’t necessarily easy to say and I don’t just throw it around casually; but when I have to refer to him and find myself saying that it actually feels pretty good.

    • Wendell G

      I find it annoying that the mindset of so many is that abuse can only be narrowly defined by physical violence. My mother never physically abused us, but the emotional trauma was devastating. It almost seems as if the often unspoken attitude is that they were just words and I should have been strong enough to resent them.

      I wasn’t and I doubt anyone can be that strong in the face of a relentless verbal assault on one’s self worth from the people who should be building one up.

      • Katy

        Christians don’t really believe that words are powerful, even though the scriptures say so.

    • King'sDaughter

      ” I didn’t want my children to be from a “broken home” (as if staying kept it from being broken!)”

      I felt the SAME! “broken-home” is what kept me! Even when I started recognizing the abuse THOSE words killed me.

      I LOVE that you wrote, “as if staying kept it from being broken”!!! That is the TRUTH!

      The marriage covenant was broken long ago, the love that God intended to be in a marriage never was, and what our children witnessed as “family” was completely disgusting and warped.

      Here’s an example of self-righteous, distorted, bondage keeping, manipulative thinking;
      A counselor once told me (after I shared my joy of being separated from my abuser that our children finally were learning what a godly home is and how to treat people with love) that staying together, having one godly parent in an abusive home was less damaging than living apart, because apparently “apart” would teach our children dysfunction, not abuse!
      SMH

  6. Kelly

    I have a hard time with “divorce” too, esp. since I am divorced twice. Both husbands left me, the first left in adultery and the second left when I stopped submitting to his abusive behaviour. The divorce was my punishment for being rebellious. And no, it wasn’t much of a punishment, as I have improved in health (physical & mental) and now live freely. I don’t like the “ex” thing either, esp. as it applies to my first husband’s family, whom I am still very close with. I don’t call his mom my ex-m-i-l, I usually just refer to her as my friend of my daughter’s grandmother.

    I am in a new relationship and am enjoying a healthy, edifying, interesting and free romantic relationship for the first time in my life, and I have to admit it is hard to tell certain people about it. It is as if I screwed up 2x before, and cannot be trusted to be in a new one. One of the things that we lose, as abuse victims, is the respect and trust of those close to us. There is a vague sense of shame in meeting someone new. Like, I am not good enough to be able to do this.

    A family member said to me once that he wanted to come “check out” my new hunny. I told him that I wasn’t worried, and he just smiled indulgently and said, “Well, I am worried”. I was, like, “Excuse me? When did I become a 16 yr old girl?”

    I have had to be strong and essentially put people in their places concerning my behaviour during the abusive relationship – I set boundaries when I was ready to, because I knew that I had to grow into them, in order to be able to deal with the consequences of setting the boundaries – as well as in how much control they think they should have over my new relationships. Which is none.

    So, it takes courage to move on.

  7. I’m with you, Ellie– every one except for child support as I always knew I’d never get a penny to support the kids if I left.

    Here’s another– I haven’t been able to say his name for three years. In my journals, I substituted his first initial. I couldn’t even bring myself to put that initial in uppercase. And on my blog I used the beast and anti-husband because the shoe fit.

    • Brenda R

      I like that–Anti husband. It is so fitting. I’ve been putting “X” for nonexistant. Only problem is he torments me still daily.

    • fiftyandfree

      I have a hard time saying “ex” or “husband.” He was never a husband and therefore he’s not my “ex.” I love Ida Mae’s term “anti-husband” because that’s exactly what he was. I call him Monster as well. I also refuse to call it a “marriage.” It was never a marriage. It was an entrapment followed by a hostage situation. I was not a wife. I was a hostage.

  8. Anonymous

    Some of the other words that paralyze me are failure, broken, and alone.

    • Heather 2

      Yes, I related to those. Though I am now in counselling to see that I wasn’t the one who failed. Broken is my middle name. I am no longer alone. God allowed me to be remarried a man who loves Him and loves me.

      It is a long journey but each step is worth it.

  9. I love this post and all the comments. 🙂

  10. fiftyandfree

    The words that make me cringe the most are the psycho-babble terms he used to label and control me. Belligerent. Unstable. Psychotic. Dysfunctional. (He’s a licensed Psychologist). And some of his clinical “Dr. of Psychology” terms which he used regularly. Concur. I hate that word. It makes me sick to my stomach because it was one of his favorite words and it’s a term he always used when he was in his commanding, in control, superior, professional, egomaniacal, I know it all, mode. “I, most brilliant and Superior Being, Licensed Doctor of Psychology, CONCUR!!!” Gag, barf, puke. I despise that word.

    The terms Parenting Plan and Parental Alienation send shivers down my spine, as do Parent Investigator and Guardian Ad Litem.

    • Fifty and Free, this is a list and a half! ((Hugs))

  11. Child of the One True King

    “Same for every other word on that list. I had no desire to be an ex-wife. Ex-wives were hostile man-hating drunks in my mind. Child support was for people who didn’t love their kids enough to make their marriages work. Single mom? Might as well’ve said “prostitute.””
    This is me right now. This is exactly where I’m stuck. My therapist said yesterday, “you seem ready for divorce.” And I said “on some level, I am.” I wasn’t sure how to explain my hesitancy. Some of it has to do with my fear of going against God’s will, but He has been giving me a lot of peace- this website has been a huge help with it. THIS.. these words. This is most of it. I couldn’t have said it any better. I don’t want to BE any of these things. But I hear you, I hear that you took this step.. and didn’t become a man-hating drunk or a prostitute. And part of me knows I won’t either.. if/when I take that step. Thank you for putting my feelings into words.

    • Anon

      Joe Pote, a reader and contributor of ACFJ, has a very good blog post entitled “Divorce is NOT a Status” at his website. My divorce had only been finalized a few months when he posted this article. At the time I was struggling with the phrase “I am divorced” because I didn’t want to be defined by the word “divorce”.

      In his article Joe explains, “Divorce does not define who I am, as implied by a statement such as, ‘I am divorced.’ Divorce is an experience I have been through, not a defining characteristic of my identity.”

      He ends by saying, “God does not see me as divorced, nor as divorced and remarried. He sees me as possessing the valuable life experience of having lived through a divorce, and He intends for that life experience to become a useful tool in the ministry for which He has ordained and destined me.”

      I encourage anyone who struggles with being labeled “divorced” to read his article Divorced is NOT a Status [Internet Archive link].

      • Brenda R

        I liked that article. I do feel shame or maybe fear of what others will think when saying “I am divorced”. I think I’d rather go with “I have been rescued”.I don’t feel like I was ever married. Trapped perhaps, Entrapped definitely.

      • Anon

        If someone asks me if I am married, I simply reply, “No, I’m single.” I choose not to use the word “divorced” unless I have to.

      • Brenda R

        That has to be a good way of starting conversation, Anon. I know it is a matter of changing my “stinkin, thinkin”.

      • Brenda R

        I know this has nothing to do with this topic, but I need to vent. It will be a week tomorrow since the judge put his blessing on the legal separation. Even though I know it is for the best, I suddenly find myself very lonely. I don’t want to go back or think it is the right thing to do, but I don’t have friends or family in the area. No one that would listen to what I have to say without giving me strange looks and saying “I will pray for you”. I believe in the power of prayer, but I have absolutely no hope of reconciliation.

        Over the past several weeks we have gone back and forth about both of us not attending the same church service. We agreed that I would go to the early service and him the later. I am finding that he hasn’t been attending at all and is looking for a different church. That is with the exception of 2 weeks ago his disrupting me during the middle of the Lord’s Table to give me forms to divide his 401k. He then told me this afternoon that he didn’t like any of them. I then said that I would look for a new one, it would be easier for me than for him. He is not a member, I don’t believe he is saved and the people at my church treat him well. He acts very well while there and immediately leaves after the last prayer. I don’t want to be responsible for his not going to church at all or being a hindrance in his possible salvation.

        This all lead up to my telling him that I don’t know if I could ever trust him not to hurt me again and if I could it would take a very long time. (He says he is seeing a counselor, but I see no real progress. Only the use of pretty words that change into hateful ones.) That lead to him saying he wouldn’t go back to my church, telling me he loves me and wants me to be happy and then threatening me with prolonging our asset division and on it goes. I don’t really care how long it takes except for the fact that I have to keep dealing with this type of thing. I make enough money to keep myself in a cozy little apartment, put gas in the car and food on the table. The Lord has seen to all my needs.

        I would so much love to have someone that I could invite over for tea and have a long heart to heart with. This is my desire and my prayer.

      • Oh Brenda. hugs to you. Many survivors feel lonely, especially when the housing and legal pressures start to ease up, the melancholic feelings have more chance to surface.

        Can you limit the amount of communication between you and him? My experience of talking to ex is that it ALWAYS screwed my brain and makes me feel worse.

      • Brenda R

        Barbara,
        Communication right now is not as frequent, still daily and painful. It is difficult for me not to respond when I am told “You wouldn’t care if I died tomorrow”. That statement only proves to me that he never got to know me and I know it is only a ploy to get me back into the web.

        We have already signed over vehicle titles. I got the remainder of what I could take from the house this week. Division of assets is in process. Now it is him trying to hold onto me and me still having that voice saying this is for life. And, him saying this is for life. There is my pastor preaching on submission for the past month. Then there is me saying No to that life. So yes, communication should slow down even further. A fast from the computer would probably help or at the very least I “could” be strong enough not to open his emails. (I almost used the “S” word.) That would help immensely. I haven’t answered or returned phone calls in over a month. I have gotten better about that.

        Thank you for your encouragement and support. Brenda

      • Here’s a handy response you might like to tuck up your sleeve for when your ex says things like “You wouldn’t care if I died tomorrow”.

        Just reply in a distant and detached tone: “That’s your view.”

        Sometimes this works well: “That’s what you think; it’s not what I think.”
        That also works well when talking to your family who are in touch with your ex and hearing his point of view. Tell them: “That’s what he thinks; it’s not what I think.”

        Or you can say “Stop telling me what I would or wouldn’t care about! You are not me. You don’t know what my feelings are!”

        Hanging up or not replying when the ex starts trying to guilt trip or otherwise verbally abuse also works well!

      • Brenda R

        I expect retaliation emails today. It is sad that I know him so well that I expect bad behavior. I have said that I am fasting from emails and will not be replying or reading them. I plan on it being a long fast. There really isn’t much to say anymore. I have already said that if I wanted to continue like this I could have remained living with him. I didn’t want to do that. The Lord rescued me and I want to say thank you by moving on.

        I like “that’s your view”. I have been saying “don’t tell me what I think or feel”. That only seems to keep the pity party rolling and eventually brings me down. I will give that a whirl and look up ARMS, as well. Thank you for your help.

      • Heather 2

        Brenda, he is the one responsible for his choices regarding attending church. You don’t need to carry that guilt. He answers to God. I know how hard it is to stop blaming yourself. Hugs to you!

        I also know the feelings of extreme loneliness. It’s so incredibly sad. It’s taken me three years to even begin to leave some of it behind. But I’m trying to step out and do some things to help others and make new friends. I wish I could say it is easy, but it’s difficult as I don’t find socialising easy for me. All I can say is to take one day at a time and to be gentle with yourself.

        I haven’t felt like a fish out of water as I had read these responses. Thank you so much for sharing.

      • Brenda R

        Heather 2, I am right there with you. I am not good at social situations. Growing up we never had people at our house. Mom didn’t start taking me to church on a regular basis until I was ten. We moved around a lot and by then I was a wall flower and pretty much afraid of people. There are things I think about doing as far as volunteering and perhaps I will meet people that way. Right now I practically run from the church as soon as service is over out of fear that I will run into X. Pastor has said over and over again the past few Sundays “whom shall I fear”. I think: X. That is whom I fear. I pray that some day my heart will be so filled with His spirit that I can agree, that I do not fear. Thank you for your support. My sisters at this site have come through for me and touched my heart. Brenda

      • Anon

        “Pastor has said over and over again the past few Sundays ‘whom shall I fear’. I think X.”

        I also avoid being in the presence of my X, but not because I am afraid of him. I am protecting myself. If you do not feel safe around him, there is nothing wrong with avoiding him.

        Barbara has written a post entitled “Is it sin to feel afraid?” Very helpful in understanding what scripture says about fear.

      • Brenda R

        I don’t think I am literally afraid. I’m not trembling. I am concerned about protecting my self. My pastor would consider that fear. But yet he moved twice before finding a place where he and his family have been long term because of crime where they were. Isn’t that fear?

      • Katy

        Brenda ❤
        Loneliness is part of this road. I think it is normal and we all feel it. Don't worry about hindering his salvation — you haven't done anything to stand in his way. If he really wanted to go to the throne, nothing is stopping him.
        If you have a friend you can email, that always helps. My friends are all scattered so when I feel lonely I email someone! 🙂

      • Brenda R

        Anon, I have lost contact with almost everyone over the years. I have my mom and daughters the closest living a couple of hours away. My mom and oldest daughter are 2k miles away. I have acquaintances but no true friends except my Lord. I email my daughters but try not to get into my being lonely, I don’t want to bring them down with me or make them feel like they need to do something about it. Somehow I need to find a life that includes people in the flesh. I do appreciate my online sisters, sooooo much. It has only been 3 months since the separation. I suppose, I really need to give myself a brake. The people I am acquainted with at church have strong marriages and don’t understand my course. I know it will get better. I have been on a leash for a long time.

      • Brenda, I found companionship and mutual support by attending a domestic violence support group run by my local secular women’s DV service. All the other women in it were not believers, but we had a lot in common otherwise. We got so much out of it that we decided to keep meeting off our own bat after the 10 week group had concluded. We met like that for at least a year, with new women coming into the informal group by word of mouth. I’ve not kept in close contact with those women as time has gone by (it’s now fourteen years since I started attending that group) but it helped me get through a very hard patch. And you never know, you might find another Christian survivor in such a group!

        I went to a similar secular-run group recently, just once, when I was stressed to the gills from some post separation abuse, and there was another Christian woman there! I actually knew her from a church I’d been to years before! Small world. Neither of us had guessed then that we were both victims of domestic abuse.

        And if there is an ARMS group in your area, you’d probably find it was be attended by at least some Christian survivors. ARMSonline.

      • Brenda R

        I’m sorry Katy, I wrote Anon in my reply instead of your name. I didn’t scroll up high enough.

      • Anon

        Brenda – it’s hard, it’s lonely, I know. ((hugs))
        You are in the process of creating a new normal for yourself, and it takes time. I echo what Barbara and Katy have said.
        Limit conversation with him: I communicate only when I have to with my x and then only through email. I know I am not emotionally and psychologically strong enough to not be sucked back into his crazymaking fog. The farther from the fog I put myself the clearer things become.
        And as Katy said, you are not responsible for hindering his salvation. You are not responsible for him not going to church. You are not responsible for his actions or lack of actions. If he doesn’t go to church it is because he chooses not to go. I spent decades trying “to make things easier” for my x, and it didn’t help him.

      • Brenda R

        Anon, I know what you say is true. I do only use email now. It is easier to keep my responses to the point and keep the emotion down. Thank you for your support.

  12. Finding Answers

    (Heavy airbrushing…)

    Words I choke on….

    Incest / sibling sexual abuse

    Complex-PSTD

    Broken

    Damaged

    The words are my reality in the sense of the impact on my life. Facing the words is a daily challenge, the impact manifesting in unexpected ways. Take this afternoon, for example….

    Not long ago, I sold my car, not wanting to risk endangering myself or anyone else. For many reasons, I was already familiar with a number of city transit routes. Today, I wanted to learn a new route, one that provides access to less expensive options.

    (Omitting many details for my protection.) There are so many round-abouts / traffic circles on this route, I became disoriented. Previously, there were reasons for this choice to be a less viable option. Now, I have another to add to the list. (The routes with which I am familiar are straightforward.)

    Many times I think I am “normal”, then am abruptly reminded of the words I choke on….

    • Finding Answers

      Adding on to my own comment….

      Many times I need to remember the words I choke on – NOT out of bitterness or “playing the victim”. I need to remember why I can’t do some things, especially when I can do many other things very well.

      I am grateful beyond words God has healed me and I am able to feel. Feeling comes at a price, a capacity to feel pain with an added dimension. And I am OK with that, truly I am. Living in a world of colour FAR exceeds the world of black-and-white or grey.

      I remember the words I choke on when I need – again – to hand anger at my abusers to God. And I face this anger every time I encounter a deeper toll abuse has taken on my life.

      I used to label myself a “misfit” because there is no one resource that could explain the various ways all the broken and damaged pieces intertwined. In a way, I am still a “misfit” by the world’s standards.

      God does NOT label me a “misfit”, God does NOT expect me to fit the world’s standards. And I am OK with that, truly I am.

      I am obedient to God, not mankind.

      • Now Free (formerly struggling to be free)

        Finding Answers,
        You never were a misfit (I think I said that away back when I first heard you say it) just someone trying to piece the jigsaw together. To get to the bigger picture and to see clearer. I am so happy beyond words you have come this far and have seen the true colours of that picture.

        My heart rejoices with yours at seeing such amazing colour in this beautiful world. I know Jesus sees us as beautiful too, when we even think like the world, [that] we are nothing or trash because of violations to our boundaries.

        I am glad God has taken you through so much since your walls started to crumble. Truly it’s been an amazing journey to watch and I’m sure one which will give hope to those who have come through intense abuse. Our God will never fail us. Your testimonies of each step listening to His voice has challenged me greatly and has been an immense blessing and encouragement to me.

        I get that you can now feel emotions as so often hurt clouds our vision and for our safety and self-protection our emotions become hidden or kept for future use. God truly has designed us amazingly as the psalms tell us.

        I pray the God of all comfort will continue to touch your heart and continue to paint His rainbow in your sky, and continue to transform you into the amazing person He intended you to be. One day we will stand before His throne and be perfected. We will rejoice with Him forever.

        Until then keep on looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. Keep on sharing your voice. I know for me you have helped me so much and to realise God had not forgotten me despite what His so-called church has done. I still trust Him to see me right through. Truly you have been an inspiration, thank you.

    • Finding Answers

      Clarifying my comment from 6TH SEPTEMBER 2018 – 6:10 PM….

      In my comment, I wrote:

      There are so many round-abouts / traffic circles on this route, I became disoriented.

      I no longer have any risk of becoming disoriented by round-abouts / traffic circles. Nor have I had any risk of becoming disoriented by round-abouts / traffic circles for well over 2 years….it’s been so long since I’ve been at risk of becoming disoriented by round-abouts / traffic circles that the risk of becoming disoriented by round-abouts / traffic circles might have stopped as soon as I finished writing my 6TH SEPTEMBER 2018 – 6:10 PM comment and submitted it….

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