The fog that settles in a mind that faces psychological abuse is heavy, and pervasive. It plagues me even now as I try and parse out what words could be strung together to tell you my story. Any interruption or distraction brings light and air, and I’d rather live there, out of the shadow, out of the fog.
It’s like trying to write through radio static.
So why write?
There’s that voice, the temptation to keep quiet, though it dresses up in costumes that look like “move on.” I know the voice is less encouragement and more fear. Fear of the abuser, or his counterparts, some still living in my Facebook feed, still bumping through the same grocery stores, shopping centers, schools.
It’s been almost three years since we first separated. I am still hearing about how he “sat someone down” and told them “the truth” about me, just months ago. The people he talks to get that glazed look I used to feel come across my own face when I tried to explain to myself what was wrong. If pressed, these people tend to just say they know things. But they are unwilling or unable to describe or define it.
In court what he said was that there were some things he wouldn’t say because he “didn’t want to embarrass his wife.”
And that was all.
And that’s usually all it takes.
Or they’ll think you’re bitter. They’ll call you a liar. The pattern of battle will start all over again.
I must remind myself I am not writing for them. Not to prove anything. They wouldn’t believe me anyway. That’s a common theme for all abusive relationships. A quick google search will show you that.
What I didn’t find a whole lot of when I was desperately trying to figure out what had happened in my marriage was information about spiritual abuse. I know now it’s actually quite simple, any use of scripture to used to manipulate, or control. Well, it sounds simple.
But even now, encountering the Bible turns up the volume on that static.
Here’s an example for you:
1 John 4 talks about how there is no fear in love.
Before I go further, if you’ve ever encountered this verse, will you pause and give a space in your mind for that verse to sit? Invite it to come center stage, the way you’ve understood it, how you’ve applied it, quoted it, held it up.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
To me, sitting with this verse has always led to a deep comfort. All of the worry stirring in me would still, and then, beyond that, I could stand up in courage. Courage to reach out, to show love. Resting in the knowledge that God is love, I would be determined to live that love out in hope that my showing that love could bring the same peace to someone else. Further, I could stand knowing that I was loved by God and therefore had nothing to fear from him. I could rest completely in grace.
There is so much fear tied into the lives of most Christians. Afraid to talk to the wrong people, the wrong sex, the wrong denomination.
Afraid to listen.
To the wrong people, the wrong sex, the wrong denomination.
I was determined to shake off some of those fears.
But the verse shifted its shape as I learned about abuse.
See, abuse is all about fear. And that fear is about control. An abuser knows what they are doing. It is a choice. But it is exhausting all the time to make these huge displays of terror, shouts and stomps and destruction of property.
Those are to add to the fear. If someone can get you to live afraid, those displays can be few and far between. They’d much rather control you with a look, keep you small under a few choice words, have you live in fear of those big displays showing up again.
Once I understood that I was expected to stay afraid, I had to come to the conclusion that I was not loved.
And, no, the abuser does not get to redefine love to suit their terms. (“Of course I love you, I do these things because I get scared I’ll lose you.” Or any version like it.) That is gaslighting.
I was raised in the church believing that I should always have an answer (an tragically amputated version of 1 Peter 3:15), and because of other teachings (and a flourishing gift and greeting card industry) I understood that the best answer to give to anything was a Bible verse.
So when I realized I was always afraid, and when I began to see that what was happening in my life was lie upon lie, like a good Christian, I decided to stand up to it.
I said my piece. I quoted my verse.
I knew better than to believe it would get me anywhere, but I felt it was my duty to speak up.
“There is no fear in love,” I said to him. “If I am constantly made to be afraid of you, how can I believe you love me?”
For the record, I would never recommend that someone confront their abuser this way. At least, not alone.
“See, that’s where you’re wrong,” he said, a favorite opening to any of the personal sermons he aimed my way. “You see that last line? The one who fears is not made perfect. So if you’re afraid, looks like you’re the one with the problem.”
And just like that, the rug was pulled out from under me.
Later, when I started speaking to some of the people who had interacted with him, I saw they could easily see the holes in his way of defending his own ideas. Some. Not all. And the majority of those who could see the holes still seemed to want to support him.
It is the minutiae of any abuse that makes it so hard to live outside of it. If every verse could be flipped so easily on it’s head, then where else could I go?
I stopped standing up at all. I collected my truth quietly, and when the static got loud, I laid it all out in front of me when I was alone. I know this much is true, I would remind myself, then I would pack it all away again, knowing that, for now, all I knew to be true wouldn’t do me any good.
Because all of the truth in the world means nothing if you’re still waiting for someone to confirm it for you before you’ll let yourself believe it.