Last Wednesday was a horrible day. A situation was developing that sent my subconscious back to a memory from 13 years ago. Those of us with memory issues due to our trauma understand when I say often times I forget about things that happened yesterday; yet when this specific trigger set in, I could remember every single word of my abuser’s rant. I vividly remember the room, sounds, distance between where we stood. I remember how painful his words churned my stomach to the point of me leaning over the toilet to throw up. I looked down at my body to make sure it wasn’t shaking uncontrollably as it did that day.
“I deserve to be punished” was never a spoken thought. It was just inherent knowledge, like, “I am a human being.” Not the kind of thing you think about it, because it’s just so self-evident.
This cruel-seeming set of circumstances in the hospital confirmed this “truth” that was already integrated into my entire being.
I knew I deserved the bruises, the yelling, the constant correction, being treated like a child. Day after day, week after week, year after year. With every bad thing that happened, I knew I deserved to be punished.
As a teenager I had sinned terribly, and the guilt I carried cried out for punishment. I needed to be punished. Being abandoned in the hospital while I harbored this terrible secret of abuse—it must be one more punishment.
I knew. So, at some level it all made sense.
When the abuse increased threefold after our daughter’s cancer diagnosis, from awful to horrific, I hated it and feared it. But still.
I deserved it.
Through all the countless bruises, the rages, the fear, the endless punishments.
I deserved it.
The examples are all different but my reaction is almost always the same. When God says it is time to start the next painful step of my recovery, my human mind doesn’t believe I am able. Hundreds of times over the past half dozen years I have emphatically told God: I can’t do what you are asking me to do.
One afternoon my daughter was running out of diapers so I called my abuser. It had been days since he had stopped by but maybe he’d bring his daughter some diapers? Boldly, I took a chance at calling him knowing full well his way of handling his daughters’ health situation was to drink and ignore us.
I can still feel the sting as I relive the obscenity-filled NO that came across through my cell phone. No, I am not driving over there (5 miles away) with diapers. His tone was so degrading. He ended with a stern “figure this out yourself” as he hung up the phone.
As I sit in church Sunday after Sunday mornings, I often leave discouraged and jealous. Surrounded by a thousand perfectly dressed, smiling, loudly singing, and actively listening to the sermon people causes me to feel unworthy. Unloved. Not good enough for God.
Over and over I ponder the same confusing thought: If God truly loved me, He surely wouldn’t have let the abuse get so bad, right? If He really loved me, then the horrors of the night my abuser held me in a chokehold with my feet dangling inches off the ground wouldn’t have happened, right? If God truly loved me, I wouldn’t be feeling so alone and isolated.
Last week I left work at noon; barely able to get to the car without the waterfall of tears starting. The tears overtook me quickly. Looking back, I probably had less than two minutes from being into anxiety mode to full melt down mode.
The tears flowed and my body quivered as I drove myself home. I had been three years since my body gave into my PTSD so strongly. Curling up in the fetal position in my chair, it didn’t take me long to figure out what was happening. My coping skills weren’t working and my PTSD was once again controlling my reactions to my world.
Another 4th of July. Another painful weekend. For me, in addition to July 4th, I find Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons painful.
It's been 12 years since I separated from my abuser. It occurs to me that he's not bothered by the painful memories at all. Nope. Chances are if he does think about July 4th holidays that we were together, he probably remembers them as great times. It's truly shocking that the pain my abuser put me through can still impact my world so many years later.
My journey from domestic violence victim to survivor is in its twelfth year. I’ve made huge strides in my recovery over the past five years (aka nervous breakdown year), yet the anxiety within my head has never completely calmed down. But this past weekend, for one of the few times in my life, I felt totally connected to my world for a beautiful five minutes.
One of the goals in my recovery has always been to obtain the calmness and peace God offers to his children. Psalm 29:11: “The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.”
Late last month I spent a weekend with an awesome group of domestic violence survivors; we were getting away at an extremely powerful retreat put together by Called to Peace Ministries. What a lovely group of women!
During the weekend, while I was talking to a small group of women, I mentioned I was a retired Lieutenant Colonel who spent 21 years on active duty. Having left active duty 12 years ago, my hair is now considerably longer and my frame has added a few extra pounds. I am definitely softly spoken now and prefer to stay in the back ground.
So many non-victims that I share my abusive background with can’t believe the horrific things my abuser did to me. But what I don’t believe I do a good job at describing is that my life continued on as I was being victimized.
During the five years we were challenged with our daughter’s cancer, and subsequent bone marrow transplant, the abuse increased 100%. Literally, I remained bruised from her diagnosis at two years old until I separated from my abuser five years later. My abuser couldn’t handle the pain, suffering, and possible loss of our daughter so he took it all out on me. Deep down, not unlike the increased abuse I suffered with the birth of our first child, my abuser definitely didn’t like my being distracted and not completely focused on his wants and needs. I specifically remember one extremely painful beating I received due to my being more focused on our daughter and ignoring his needs. Those of us who suffer abuse know exactly what I am talking about.
Hi, I'm Sue
Welcome to my blog! I served twenty-one honorable years on active duty, living a double life of capability and accomplishment in the service while enduring brutality and abusiveness in my twenty-one year oppressive marriage. Today I'm happily married and have three children who are my inspiration and motivation.
My goal is to help combat the lies of abusers with the truth of God. I hope you find my words to be healing and helpful through your own life experiences.
Being separated from my abusive husband didn't make me a domestic violence survivor. It surely didn't release me from the grip of his brainwashing control and the innate power he had on me.
Read the full raw story in my new book, Rock Bottom and Faithless.