A Story Of Abuse
by Beverly Brown, Set Me Free Ministries Prayer Coordinator
I recently became aware that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). I didn’t know that when I shared my own domestic violence story at our Goodbye Fear! conference October 15. In light of that discovery, my daughters asked me if I would write the blog for this week. Maybe if the victims of domestic violence, past and present, are given a voice, we can eradicate it forever–I can only hope and pray.
My story started in 1968 when I married my first husband and Stephanie’s birth father when I was 19. The abuse didn’t start immediately, but it didn’t take long to surface. There were affairs, and there were beatings. But after every beating, there were the words that would pierce my heart: “I am sorry. This will never happen again, I promise. I love you. Please don’t leave me. I couldn’t live without you.” And I believed every word–until the next time.
The worst came when we’d been married about six months. It was New Year’s Eve, and I was eight months pregnant. We had friends over, and I had been in the kitchen preparing food when I noticed that it was almost midnight. Wanting to be with my husband when 1969 was ushered in, I walked down the hallway toward the living room. Just as I turned the corner, I saw my husband embracing and kissing another woman as the clock struck twelve.
A physical pain hit my gut like a Mack truck, and I quickly retreated into our bedroom and closed the door behind me. I didn’t want a confrontation while he had been drinking. But he had seen me and followed me into the bedroom, accusing me of spying on him. I remember the look in his eyes, and I braced myself for the first blow. He hit me several times, and I fell to the ground. He kicked me in the stomach and ordered me to get back up so he could knock me down again. I was yelling for help but no one came. I was terrified he would seriously injure our baby. After what seemed like an eternity, he stopped and left with his friends.
For some miraculous reason, I didn’t go into labor that night. If I had, I’m not sure Stephanie would have survived. She was only 5 pounds, 3 ounces when she was finally born January 26–nearly one month later. The months of abuse had taken their toll on both of us. I can only imagine how tiny she would have been at eight months. I truly believe God had His hand on both of us that night.
The affairs continued, and the beatings continued. I left a few times only to come back when he would make promises he never kept. Why? Why did I continue to believe him time after time after time and come back to more lies and more abuse? I believe there were at least four reasons: love, fear, guilt, and shame. Let’s look at how each of these impacted my reasoning.
Love–or at least what we think is love. This was the first man I’d loved and the father of my child. I had promised to love, honor, and cherish him til death do us part. I didn’t take those words lightly, and I believed that if I just loved him enough, he would change. But he never did.
Fear–I also had fear that if I left, Darrell would come after us. I had seen his anger manifest itself too many times not to be in fear. And in fact, when I finally did leave for good, he threatened to get a gun and force our return. Fortunately, although he did show up at my parents’ home, he did not have a gun.
Guilt–I believed that every little girl needs her father. That was something no amount of love on my part could ever replace if I left. I didn’t want to take Stephanie away from her father for his sake either. When I would threaten to leave, he would heap the guilt on. How could I take his only child away from him? He would beg me to stay “just until.” Just until her first Easter, her first Thanksgiving, her first Christmas, and then her first birthday. And so I stayed. Why? Because of guilt. I would be depriving him of all those “firsts.”
Along with the guilt, comes the blame game. One of the dynamics in an abusive relationship is the blame game, both on the abuser’s side and on the side of the one being abused. He would tell me it was my fault; I made him angry. And I would tell myself it was my fault. The “if only” syndrome haunted me. If only I were a better wife or mother, if only I were more beautiful or sexy. If only …
Shame–I couldn’t bring myself to ask anyone for help. It was too embarrassing to admit I had failed so horribly at being a wife and a mother.
I finally did leave just a few days before Stephanie’s first birthday. I won’t go into the details of that decision except to say that it was long overdue. My physical health had deteriorated, and I had lost a great deal of weight. My parents were very concerned about Stephanie and me and our safety and convinced me that I had given him enough chances to change to no avail.
Many women stay in abusive relationships for years because they see no way out. I am very grateful for loving parents that were willing to not only help me get out, but to stay out. There is a term known among counselors as “the cycle of abuse.” It is the same cyclical pattern I described: 1) the abuser strikes out with mental or physical abuse, 2) the abuser expresses remorse, 3) the abuser courts his wife or girlfriend also known as the honeymoon period. And then it starts all over again: abuse, remorse, honeymoon.
I thank God that He was there all that time so long ago even when I didn’t know it. Some of you may have been in abusive relationships in the past and gotten out. But some of you may be in an abusive relationship now. I want you to know that there is a way of escape. Don’t stay in the cycle of abuse. Find the help you need and get out. Find the domestic abuse hotline in your community and call it. If you have a church home, confide in your pastor and ask for help. Or call a friend and confide in them. Just don’t keep silent; give yourself a voice.
And most importantly, pray and ask God to give you the strength you need to get yourself and your children if there are any to a safe place. Jeremiah 29:11 encourages us with these words: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” NKJV
Domestic Violence Help Resources:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
(800) 799-SAFE (7233)
Catholic Charities Domestic Violence Services
Set Me Free Ministries