At age 13, my mother and stepfather got very involved in ultra conservative politics and the anti abortion movement. They preached that the government was bad and controlling and hated God. I was taught that women were created to serve their husbands and have children. It was pounded into me that women are fragile creatures who need to be protected and sheltered. And that is when my grooming began in earnest
I became “of age” and eligible for marriage at 18. Our church had run out of eligible single women, and there was a man from a ‘sister’ church who was ready to get married. So he came to visit our church for the sole purpose of finding a wife. The moment he introduced himself to me, I heard clearly “You are going to marry this man”. I was overwhelmed with feelings of dread and terror mixed with an odd excitement. Outwardly I appeared excited and happy. Deep down I was filled with dread but I convinced myself that marrying him would be a way to change my life. I had no idea what was coming.
For the first few years, life seemed to be better for me. I had my own small family to take care of. We were the picture-perfect “biblical” couple. I threw myself into my role as the perfect wife and mother. We had issues in our marriage sure, but who doesn’t? I justified all the little red flags, ignored the nagging little voice that something was wrong, and put up with his increasingly violent sexual desires. After all, the entire reason I exist is to make sure that my husband is happy right? And if he wasn’t happy that meant I was doing something wrong and was displeasing God.
I had three children in just over three years but the feeling that something wasn’t right kept getting stronger and I continued to ignore it. Then in the spring of 2002, I found out I was pregnant again. I broke down sobbing. I cried alone in the bathroom for a few more minutes, then composed myself, put the mask of the perfect wife and mother back on and went back out to my life. A few months later, everything started to unravel.
When I went for my first appointment at just over 4 months pregnant, they were unable to find a heartbeat. An ultrasound confirmed, the baby had died in the womb. Waves of guilt, shame, and sadness enveloped me. I had told God I wasn’t strong enough to have another baby, and so He had taken it away. My husband and my church “family” were not supportive. I spiraled into a depression (another sign of a lack of faith according to my husband) and set out to find out WHY this had happened.
After months of research, multiple tests and finally exploratory surgery, I was diagnosed with endometriosis. My doctor said that most likely this was the cause of my miscarriage. It was a good news/bad news situation. I had proof that the miscarriage was a medical issue and not a faith issue but was also told I would more than likely never be able to have children again and would eventually need to have a complete hysterectomy. My husband and the church did not take this news well. According to them, it WAS still a faith issue and our family was under spiritual attack. The narcissism started to become more apparent during this time. He became increasingly critical and blamed me for everything that was going wrong. He also became more violent in the bedroom and started insisting on pornography. I was not comfortable with any of this but did not believe I could say no. In public, he was the perfect god-fearing husband trying to do the best for his family, behind closed doors he was a different person.
I was sent on retreats to “strengthen my faith”. I was broken, God no longer loved me, I had failed as a wife. I cried out to God for forgiveness and begged him before he took away my womb to please give me a son. In 2004, my prayers were answered, and my son was born. The pregnancy was hard, as were the two that followed. The upside was that during those years, the emotional and physical abuse subsided somewhat.
After another pregnancy in 2008, the endometriosis flares became more severe. It had become a quality-of-life issue, and I was advised to get a hysterectomy. My church and husband wanted me to undergo another series of retreats and natural remedies. But for the first time in 12 years, I stood up for myself and insisted I have the surgery. After weeks of arguing, and him trying to manipulate me out of the decision, he begrudgingly agreed. When I returned from surgery, it became clear that I was no longer of any use to my husband, and I was under severe judgment from our church. I began standing up for myself more. I made friends outside of our circle, started attending a different church and insisted we leave the one we had been attending. I got a part-time job. His abuse and narcissism behind closed doors became worse. I decided to accept the fact that I would never have the marriage that I wanted and focused on providing a good life for my kids. As my focus shifted from him to the kids, things got even worse for me. But I justified it to myself thinking that if I took it, the kids wouldn’t. I learned to disassociate and became hyper-aware of his tone and body language. I could see when an episode was coming and learned to get the kids out of the way so they wouldn’t have to see it. He would always be apologetic in the days following an episode. He would buy me gifts or take me on trips, and things would be quiet even a month or more. The more hyper-aware I was, the longer the time between episodes.
Then one night, I missed something. I didn’t see it coming. We were all watching the kids taking turns playing video games. I made a comment. I don’t remember what I said, but suddenly I was pinned to the floor of the living room. My husband was on top of me, his face distorted and a reddish-purple. He was snarling at me. The older girls managed to get the kids out of the living room and upstairs, except for my son who continued to play his game. I don’t know how, but I managed to get out of the living room and into the kitchen. And I shut down. I don’t know how long the episode lasted. I don’t remember much of what he did to me. I just remember he kept getting angrier and angrier because I wasn’t responding. Finally, he walked back into the living room. I followed him. My son looked up and said, “Can you play video games with me now, dad?” My husband grabbed him by one arm, lifted him off the floor and started beating him. I took a step forward to intervene, but he took one look at me and I froze. I watched helplessly as he beat my son.
The next day, I packed up the kids and left. This is where the hard work began. We were homeless, I was jobless, and I had no clue what to do. Over the months I started my healing process, all while fighting for custody of the kids. My husband tried everything he could think of to get us back. He didn’t know where we were living but found ways to get to us. He would show up at church, leave flowers on my car outside of court or have them delivered to the house. He sent me messages telling me how much he loved me and wanted me back. But I could see through the façade. I tossed the flowers, deleted messages and declined any invitations.
Once we were in our own home, and I had to provide food, clothing and shelter for my kids, I pushed all my pain, fears and emotions deep down, stopped working on my healing and focused on my kids. That was a mistake.
Over time, my oldest daughter finally felt safe enough to come to me and tell me that my ex-husband had been molesting her. Once again my world shattered and I had pieces to pick up. I told my daughter I believed her, and that we would do whatever it was she needed to do. I had been molested by a family member at 16, and when I told my parents they pretended as nothing happened. So I knew how important it was for me to believe her and support her. She told me she wanted to confront him about it, so the next weekend when he dropped the kids off I had him stay longer. I told him what my daughter had said, and he arrogantly admitted that it was true, and in fact, blamed ME for his actions. He said, “Look how you were treating me. What else was I supposed to do?” I screamed at him “NO. You are not going to blame me for this. This was not my fault and this was not my daughter’s fault. Get out of my house NOW!” As soon as he left I called the police.
The trial was brutal. He pleaded guilty to the charges, but I still had to provide testimony during sentencing. I sat in a cold courtroom, with people I had never met before and told them the horrible details of what had been done to me. In the end, he got a year of jail and ten years of probation.
It has been nine years since we have had contact with him. During that time I have done my best to build a life for my kids. I got divorced from the second narc. I have made mistakes, jumped into relationships before I was ready out of the fear of being alone. I ignored my PTSD while attempting to help my children deal with theirs. I had to distance myself from former friends and family who told me I did the wrong thing by leaving him, that I should have tried harder. I was working 80+ hour weeks at times to keep the bills paid and food on the table. Over the last few years I have been able to get into a better place financially, and recently I have taken a hard look at myself and finally have begun to deal with my trauma and PTSD. I had hoped that my story would be over by now and I would be living my happily ever after. But I am starting to see that there will never be an end to my story. These experiences have had a profound impact on developing who I am. Each day is building on the one before. The trauma responses and PTSD will always be there, but the way I handle them will change over time.
I know I will still make mistakes. But I also know that I am a better person than I was nine years ago, and each day is a chance to grow even more.
My hope is that my story will be a source of hope and encouragement for anyone else going through a similar situation.