Gratitude. When I see her all dressed up swirling around on the top of her tippy toes — Pique turn after Pique turn — dancer’s leotard and tights, her hair in a bun, sparkles around her eyes, a brilliant smile on her face — I am grateful. No, I am overjoyed. My “little” girl is strong! She is happy, confident, kind, and resilient.
I left my first husband when my daughter was just two-years-old. And while I still struggle financially and my health has been severely affected by years of trauma, we are thriving. On this side of the abuse, it’s clear leaving was the right thing to do. I walked on eggshells my entire relationship. He was verbally and emotionally abusive throughout our marriage. And when we separated, he became physically abusive. We shared custody, and since he no longer had complete emotional control, he escalated his attempts to exert power by using physical intimidation. He would create a human barricade or grab our arms, forcing us to move in the direction he was demanding, causing many bruises and instilling fear in us both. The custody battles were horrible, and the fights continue to this day (ten years later), but we are safe. The decision to leave him was one of the hardest decisions in my life. I believed firmly in the sanctity of marriage and the importance of honoring my marriage vows. With time and space, I eventually understood that God did not intend for me to live in an abusive marriage; that my husband was breaking his vows every time he harmed me. But it took me a while to get there.
Today, I feel thankful that we are not constantly in fear and chaos. I am grateful to be free from the nightly barrage of criticisms and condemnation that tore at my soul. I am safe. When my daughter is with me, she is safe. I give her balance, teach her to love herself and others well, show her how to set good boundaries in relationships, help develop her intellectual and emotional IQ. Mostly, I love her unconditionally from a healthy, fearless place within me.
After my first divorce was final, I met another man who filled my world with joy. We married, and he treated my daughter as his own. They adored each other. After about five years of marriage, I began to see things that didn’t add up, the lying, the pornography, the prostitutes, the affairs. The man I met within the marriage was not the same man I thought I knew when we dated and first wed. He had blown the little savings we had on his extramarital excursions and devastated me in the process. In time, without a true willingness in him to do the work that would result in healthy change, I divorced a second time. My family lived in another state, I had no money, and my health was failing. My daughter, who was much older now, was devastated by his betrayal. To this day, she doesn’t know all the details, but she saw for herself how he treated me unkindly and refused to change for our family.
Today, we share a room we rent in someone else’s home. Multiple physical ailments have prevented me from being able to hold a job. At times, my physical condition makes it impossible for me to do the daily activities a mother finds herself immersed in – drive my daughter to dance lessons, clean, cook. Sometimes it’s difficult to even get out of bed. It has been a long journey, but numerous angels on the path have lightened the load we carry. I am grateful for those who chose (and it is a choice) to support us by not judging my decision to leave by driving us places, donating food when I could not afford groceries, giving us money or a place to stay when we had none…simply loving us through the tough times while rejoicing our victories with us. How others choose to come alongside makes all the difference in the world. There have been people who have traumatized us more through their responses and there have been people who have lifted us up when we could not stand on our own. I stand here today as a survivor and say I am grateful for everything I have. Looking back, I don’t regret leaving my house, my joint bank account or my former social circles. None of those things can be enjoyed when it’s lorded over by an abusive spouse. As my daughter most certainly knows, no amount of toys or possessions can bring the joy that comes from feeling safe and secure.
Throughout the journey, my constant guide has been the joy I see within her when she dances and the joy her dancing brings others. I am beyond grateful. Seeing her today reminds me that everything is going to be okay. No matter what, we have each other. I made the right decision to walk away from my old life. Like many abuse victims, I feared being cut off from everything when I finally left. My finances, my relationships with family, friends and even my reputation was compromised. But the fear of losing all of that eventually became less than the desire for me and my daughter to be safe.
I am still healing. I read everything I can get my hands on that might help my daughter and me grow and heal. I share my story so others can learn and come into the freedom I am experiencing. It was only just recently that I attended one of The M3ND Project’s trainings on Zoom – the Introductory Training. Throughout the three hours, I was validated and affirmed. The M3ND project put words to my experiences. Its Founder, Annette Oltmans, defined Double Abuse® for me and explained the trauma that it causes and the physical illnesses that follow. It allowed me to process and understand much of the pain I experienced when I reached out for help but was dismissed, criticized and judged and then they chose to align with my abuser. The tools and resources The M3ND Project provided – especially the Healing Model of Compassion and the Terms and Definitions sheet – helped bring me clarity and unravel the confusing behaviors that harmed me. I am grateful for the care they showed me through their training. But I am also so thankful that I now have tools and resources I can use when I help others who share their experiences with me.
This story is similar to what we have heard from so many survivors. While they had been scared to leave their abusive spouse, the peace and safety that followed their decision were worth more than any sacrifices made. We hope this news is encouraging to you.
If you are in a relationship with someone who is abusive, we encourage you to make a change. This change may be to meet with an individual therapist who specializes in abuse or begin counseling and courses at your local domestic violence agency to help unravel the confusion and assist you in putting boundaries in place until you are ready to decide whether you will stay or leave. Many chose to stay because they believed that it was better for their children that they stay together. But when abuse is present in a marriage, research shows that children suffer. Even if they are not physically harmed, they often have long term traumatic effects from witnessing a parent’s abuse or from parental behavioral modeling that carries forward to the next generation.
If you have not suffered from abuse yourself, it is very likely that at some point, someone will confide in you about the abuse they are suffering. As they start sharing with you, the most important thing you can do is listen. Just be there for them. And, when the time is right, you can also encourage them to make a change. Affirm that they are valuable, that abuse is not their fault and that they are strong enough to leave their abusive relationship because there is so much to be thankful for on the other side.
Here at The M3ND Project, we have a lot to be thankful for as well. We are thankful for the friends, family and loved ones who come alongside victims as they are on a difficult journey. We are thankful for the men and women who have been encouraged to leave an abusive relationship or do the hard work to change and start a road to recovery. We are thankful to our donors, large and small, who make it possible for us to educate, equip and restore all those impacted by abuse. We love hearing your stories and hope you will continue to share how our work has helped you or a loved one.
We are also thankful and excited for what 2021 has in store. If you would like more information on how to get involved please visit https://themendproject.com/get-involved/. We encourage you to get involved in our Giving Tuesday campaign https://secure.givelively.org/donate/m3nd-project-inc/become-a-m3nder-2020 and share our social media posts on Giving Tuesday. Thank you in advance for your support!