I lived in an abusive marriage for 27 years.
The first thing that had to happen before I could escape was that I had to begin to see my life for what it really was.
There were a number of events that led up to me finally acknowledging the severity of my situation, but there was one thing I did that helped, perhaps more than anything else: I started secretly writing an honest account of what was happening each day.
Writing my Story
Initially I kept a hidden file on my desktop computer, then I received an iPad as an early Christmas gift from my parents. I kept my iPad locked with a passcode and my journal hidden there.
I’ve kept journals for many years. When I was younger and single I wrote honestly. After I was married I stopped being honest. I stopped because the truth was too terrible. Instead of writing honestly, I kept journals filled with lists of things I was thankful for and wrote about what I learned as I read my Bible and prayed each day. I was doing my best to simply survive.
I’ve always been an overly resolute person. If I say that I’m going to do something, then I do it. This can be a wonderful character trait but sometimes I “choose the wrong hill to die on”. Staying in an abusive marriage for so many years was one of those decisions. I did not think that divorce was ever an option and I truly believed with all of my heart that if I would be a quiet, submissive wife, trust God and keep praying, that the Lord would eventually honor my prayers and change Tom.
Isolation and Gaslighting
I was tremendously isolated. For so many years I was very, very alone in all that happened. I want you to understand that I told no one what was going on during all of those years. Even my best friends and my parents, who lived in the same city as me had no idea of what my life was really like.
I told no one of the affairs, and how I was not allowed to seek out counseling or help after Tom confessed having multiple affairs to me. He decided to clear his conscience by telling me of his ongoing affairs while we we were at a Christian marriage conference. He stood behind me and whispered his transgressions in my ear as we waited in line in a huge crowd of people to get lunch. I was so physically sick that I had to go sit down at a table.
I couldn’t tell anyone about my deep grief and confusion. The bottom of my world had fallen out and I couldn’t speak to anyone, even Tom about what had happened. I was shocked, devastated, betrayed and so overwhelmed that I could barely function for many, many days after that.
I couldn’t tell anyone how angry Tom was with me for struggling so much in the wake of that confession, accusing me of “wounding” him (because I was so sad and upset) and telling me that I must not have really forgiven him (and certainly I didn’t really love him) or I wouldn’t be struggling so much.
I want you to know that in abusive marriages the controlling person “re-writes” history. For the 27 years that I was with Tom, after every skewed discussion, every abusive event ~ if I were brave enough to bring them back up to him later, his response would be shocked confusion… telling me that I had totally misunderstood what happened, or that I was being overly sensitive. Living in that environment for so many years made me question everything I saw and experienced with him.
There were days when I was subjected to relentless angry lectures that would last for 3-4 hours. One day, after a “discussion” like that, Tom called me later from work. On the phone I brought up how angry he was with me earlier in the day. He paused for several seconds then said, “Susan, I don’t know what you are talking about! I don’t ever get angry with you.” (this, I now know is a common abusive tactic called gaslighting)
Living in such a confusing relationship for so many years caused me to deeply question my perception of reality. Surely my situation wasn’t that bad, was it?
Breaking the Silence
The first important (and terrifying) step that I took was to break the silence. I gathered all of my courage and shared a few incidents with a trusted friend from my college days. I had no idea if she’d believe me or if what I shared was even “that bad.” She was aghast at what I told her ~and I hadn’t even disclosed very much and certainly not the worst events. She wisely told me that hiding sin isn’t loving and I really needed to confront Tom and demand that he get help.
I also told my parents, who were tremendously shocked, but 100% supportive, even offering to help me escape with my children. (But my escape is a story for another day).
I did eventually confront Tom and (very gently and resolutely) asked that he seek out help. That’s when my situation went from very bad to horrifically unbearable.
[Please note, if you are in an abusive relationship, confronting your abuser might be the very worst thing you could do. Many times making plans to leave in secret without confrontation and then going “no contact” is the very best and safest option. I’m simply telling my story here, not proposing that you follow my example.]
Writing my Story and Embracing the Truth of My Situation
This is when I began to write. After I asked Tom to get help but before I was forced to flee with my children, I wrote. I wrote truthfully. I wrote to figure out what I thought and as a way of remembering what was actually taking place.
Each day when I could find a few moments away from Tom I would write, honestly chronicling events and conversations from that day.
Tom was a master of “re-writing history” and my superpower was forgetting traumatic events. I had to, to survive and take care of my children for so many years. As a result I still have huge gaps in my memory of the 27 years I was with Tom.
When I bravely began writing down each day’s events that all began to change…. my perception of my story changed. Tom no longer had the power of being able to re-write history for me. I knew that I was honest and accurate in what I had written down. All I had to do was go back and re-read what I had written. It was all there for me to see.
When I decided to face reality by writing my story I began to see my situation for what it was: a very abusive marriage.
When I decided to write and own my story ~ my true story ~ it saved my life, and ultimately, the lives of my children. Perhaps that sounds like an exaggeration to you. It wouldn’t if you knew my story.
My Story Gave me Wings
I am still dealing with the horrific fallout of abuse. I have PTSD as do several of my adult children. But we are here. We are free now and are bravely moving forward. Many days I don’t feel brave but now that I know the truth I won’t go back to hiding sin and living a lie.
I now know the power of writing my story, as horrific as it is. Writing my story and owning it as mine was incredibly painful. Embracing the truth of my situation felt like it was going to kill me. It didn’t ~ it gave me wings.
Writing my story truly did save my life.
What is your story? Perhaps writing your story ~ your truthful story~ will set you free too.