I didn’t want to watch the video. I told myself that I was too busy---there was too much going on in my life to get wrapped up in a popular news story---I didn’t have the time to get emotionally invested in something having to do with sports.
Of course, I knew the storyline. In fact, a few weeks earlier I’d heard a popular newscaster say, “If anyone ever releases the video, we’ll be talking about this story in a whole new light.”
He was right. There was something about watching the video that produced a guttural reaction. When I did finally watch it, I realized that I hadn’t just been avoiding the video, I’d been avoiding the feelings I knew would accompany the video.
You see, it’s easy to forget.
It’s easy to get busy enjoying all of the current blessings God has placed in my life and push the nightmares of yesterday to the back of my mind.
The truth is that it’s hard to remember. It hurts to remember nights spent behind locked doors sleeping with a baseball bat waiting for the sun to come up so my Dad would go to work, calm down, and we could all take a deep breath. It makes me sad to remember the trips to the doctors to get my Mom the relief that she needed after my Dad caused her blood pressure to soar during one of his temper tantrums. Honestly, it is easier to just push those things out of my mind than remember the days my brother would get between my Mom and Dad trying to protect my Mom.
But just because something is easy doesn’t make it right.
The day I watched the Ray Rice video I knew that forgetting what we’d lived through rather than sharing our testimony to help the many, many women who are still living in these circumstances was wrong.
The truth is that my testimony includes learning how to live free from domestic abuse.
The funny thing is that for most of my life, I didn’t even know it was happening.
Let me explain:
I grew up in a Christian family. I was 5 years old when my Mom became a born again Christian---a moment that radically changed her life. You see, when my Mom got saved, she was “all in”. She often said that in that moment, she knew what it was to be loved for the first time in her life. If God really wanted her and loved her, then she’d be His for the rest of her life. From that moment forward, my Mom was a wholehearted, totally devoted, sold-out follower of Jesus.
My Dad, on the other hand, liked church. Yes, he went forward and said the sinner’s prayer (mostly because a very large man escorted him to the altar) and he did get very involved in church. However, he never made a real, heartfelt commitment that allowed Christ to come in and revolutionize every part of his being. Because he never allowed the Holy Spirit to make him into a new creation, he continued in his controlling, manipulating, deceitful, abusive ways---only now he had the authority of Scriptures like “Wives submit to your husbands” and “Children obey your parents” to back him up.
Behind closed doors, he was not the man he claimed to be. He did not deal with the issues in his heart from his past, so they became the reality of our future.
My Dad was filled with hate and anger. He also had a lot of issues with women. At some point in his life he decided that he was not going to hurt again. Instead, he was going to control everyone and everything in his life through guilt, manipulation, and emotional, physical, verbal and mental abuse.
My Mom took the worst of the abuse, but she didn’t recognize it as abuse because it wasn’t the drunken beatings she grew up with. My Dad’s tactics were very different and deceptive; still she was abused in every way. Whenever possible, he would demean her, blame her, and make her feel bad about herself so that she would remain under his control. I cringe now when I remember hearing my Mom say things like, “Your Dad deserves a better wife than I am”. The truth was that she was living on pins and needles trying to please him, be a good wife, and meet all of his needs and wants while living without even basic necessities herself.
The sad thing is that for most of our lives, she suffered alone and in silence trying to provide my brother and I with a safe, happy, healthy environment in which to grow up. For the most part, she was successful. It wasn’t until Jamie and I were in our twenties and the Holy Spirit pointed His spotlight on our lives that we learned how much she had really suffered and been abused over the years.
Of course, it turns out that when the secrets started coming out, it wasn’t just my Mom who had been abused. My brother had his own stories of secret physical abuse, accompanied with “Don’t tell your Mom, she’ll get angry.” This was just the tip of the iceberg of the mental and emotional abuse my brother experienced as my Dad secretly turned him against my Mom. We learned later this is a form of parent alienation syndrome.
Personally, I took the least abuse because my Dad didn’t like me. He had a general hatred toward women---especially women with strong personalities, a desire to succeed, and a goal-oriented mindset. That was me!
My Dad and I spent very little time together. When we were together, he made it clear that nothing I did pleased him. I wasn’t a good daughter. I wanted too much out of life, and I was the problem who needed to change. Unfortunately, my Dad and I were together enough for him to influence my attitudes toward myself and relationships between men and women. By the time I went to college I was accustomed to accepting abuse and was only interested in men with controlling, abusive personalities.
Like others who had come before me, I had developed an addiction to abuse and an unhealthy image of how women were to be treated. So I understand why women take abuse---they think it’s normal. It’s all they know, and they think it’s what they deserve.
Thankfully, although these are the facts of our story, this is not the end of our story.
When I was in my early twenties, the Holy Spirit intervened and He exposed all my Dad’s secrets and lies. As our family went to counseling to deal with these issues, we were also able to get to the heart of our issues with abuse, experience healing, break the cycle, and learn to live free from abuse. We learned that there is power in the name of Jesus to break the chains that bind---even of abuse. Even though I’d never be so naïve as to say it’s an easy process or that there’s a 1-2-3 formula, I would like to offer some of the steps that helped us overcome and live abuse-free.
Facing the Truth
Like I said, for many years, we did not face the truth about our lives. We thought everything was “perfect”. Then the Holy Spirit came in and showed us that things were far from perfect, and that we needed to change. However, nothing could really change in our lives until we agreed with Him and honestly admitted the truth.
For instance, I still remember the day that I was driving home from church and the Holy Spirit kept bringing up memories of cruel, hurtful things my Dad had said to me. (Just because I didn’t take a lot of physical abuse, doesn’t mean the verbal abuse I received didn’t do it’s damage.) Even all these years later, I can recall the mental struggle between “This can’t be true---I grew up in a Christian home” and the reality of the memories that were pushing their way to the forefront in my mind. It wasn’t until I finally agreed with the Holy Spirit that I my relationship with my father was very abusive that I could start to seek help and healing.
Honestly, admitting to yourself that there is a problem is one of the biggest hurdles for abused women to overcome. Instead, we want to blame ourselves or think that if we acted differently there would be no problem. Sometimes women will even say these words to friends who try to tell them, “This isn’t normal or right, you have to change.” Yet until the individual who is being abused admits that there is a problem, there is very little that can be done to help them.
Break the Silence
I know this is tricky. Women who are abused are always afraid that people won’t believe them or that the their abuser will get angry and punish them. They don’t want to be the one to “muddy the waters” because then they'll have to deal with the consequences.
Trust me, I know.
Honestly, only you know exactly the true danger of your situation. You know if you can talk to a family member, friend, or pastor, or if you need to go to the police or talk to someone with a background in domestic violence.
Still, the important thing is that you need to talk to someone. Don’t keep this secret all to yourself. If you are living in an abusive, dangerous situation, go and talk to someone with experience who can get you some help.
If you are out of imminent danger, and simply trying to work through the cycle of accepting abuse, then you, too, need to talk to someone and get some help. Talking breaks the cycle of secrets and secrets are the ropes that hold abusive relationships together. You cannot break free from abuse if you allow yourself to stay alienated and alone. Instead, find trusted individuals that can help you overcome not just the abuse but the twisted thinking in your mind that wants to accept abuse.
Get Some Help
Although breaking the silence about abuse is important, it is really only the beginning of the journey. The next step is to seek the help of a godly, Christian counselor who is trained in helping women overcome the issues in their hearts and minds that caused them to accept abuse. You see, as many have pointed out over the past few weeks, it is completely wrong to blame the victim in the case of domestic abuse. It is absolutely not the victim’s fault that they are being abused.
However, there is a flip side to that coin. Although it is not the victim’s fault, if the victim wants to stop being victimized, she needs to get some help to break the cycle of abuse and ensure that she does not become the victim again.
For our family, breaking this cycle included dealing honestly with the issues of our past, (including my parent’s past), seeking counseling, and even going through spiritual deliverance sessions with a trained minister.
It didn’t happen overnight. We gained ground little by little as we persevered through the memories, doing a lot of talking, choosing to apply forgiveness, and learning new ways of thinking and living. Yet, with each counseling session we gained more ground and experienced more freedom leading to healthier lives.
Soak Your Mind in God’s Word and Your Heart in Prayer
Anyone who has lived through abuse knows that there’s more to it than just the physical pain. That’s only a small part. The real beatings come to your mind, soul, and spirit. That’s why you’re willing to accept the physical pain---you’re already beaten down in every other area.
That’s why it’s so important that your road to recovery includes soaking your mind in God’s Word on a daily basis and allowing the truth, light, and healing in the Word to heal your heart and reveal your true value as God’s daughter. As you read the Bible, it will renew your mind, shining God’s light into the twisted thinking and speaking truth into the dark areas of your soul.
I remember my Mom saying that one of the things that helped her on her journey to freedom from abuse was memorizing Scripture. A few of the Scriptures that helped her were:
Isaiah 46:3-4 "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”
Isaiah 49:15-16 "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.”
Isaiah 54:4-6 "Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. For your Maker is your husband— the LORD Almighty is his name— the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; He is called the God of all the earth. The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit— a wife who married young, only to be rejected," says your God.”
Isaiah 61:1-4 “ The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of His splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”
Forgive Your Abuser
I know it sounds absolutely impossible---almost ludicrous---but one lesson that we’ve learned is that one of the keys to overcoming abuse is choosing to forgive every person that ever abused you in the past.
This doesn’t mean that you are saying what they did to you was right. Instead, when you forgive those who abused you, you’re releasing yourself from all the anger, hate, and feelings of revenge that you are carrying toward them. As long as you hold on to these feelings, they are still controlling you and hurting you. However, when you set them free and put them in God’s hands, you’re really cutting the cords they have on you so that you can walk in freedom.
Learning to Walk in Freedom
One of the biggest challenges for those who are accustomed to abuse is learning to walk in freedom. I know it was one of the biggest obstacles for my Mom, my brother, and I. It’s hard because over the years your brain forms a natural groove toward keeping the peace, being controlled, keeping your abuser happy, and accepting the blame when your abuser isn’t happy. It’s like learning to live in a cage. Then someone opens the door and says, “You’re free.”
The truth is that it’s pretty normal for your natural response to be “Now what?” You might even be afraid to take those first few steps out of the cage and into the big, wide world around you.
So how do you do it?
One step at a time.
Each day you put one step in front of the other and take another step toward freedom knowing that even the smallest baby steps are getting you closer to your goal.
Another key to learning to walk in freedom is having a support system around you encouraging you to take each step forward and speaking words of life into your spirit. For example, I remember many years ago, we were on a day trip away from our home when what was formerly my Dad’s demanded dinnertime rolled around. Growing up, it was expected that a hot meal would be on the table every night when he walked through the door or else. Well, as the clock pushed toward that hour and it became apparent that I was not going to get home in time to cook, I began to panic. I could feel myself getting physically sick because the training in my brain said, “You’re a bad daughter.”
Fortunately, I had a support system in my life that said, “’Dess, this isn’t normal. Your Dad is a grown man and he can cook for himself while you’re out of town.” Then this person reminded me of the words that our pastor was trying to teach me about walking in and enjoying God’s freedom rather than accepting abuse. That day with the help of my support system, I was able to take a baby step toward walking in freedom.
Now years later, I don’t even feel a twinge of guilt when I tell my Dad, “You’re on your own tonight, I’m going out.”
Healthy thinking has replaced abuse and I’m now living in freedom. But it started one step at a time, choosing to step out of the cage and walk free from abuse.
Today, if you’re reading this article and you’re suffering under the terror of abuse, I hope this article encourages you to take your own steps out of the cage and into freedom. Whether it be admitting to yourself that you need help, breaking your silence, seeking help, or making the choice to forgive and walk in freedom, I encourage you that today is the day to start. Don’t continue being the victim of another person’s unresolved issues. Instead, take personal responsibility and decide that you are going to take your own first baby steps to freedom.
As someone who has taken the journey to freedom and overcome, I can tell you it is well-worth every effort.