Lyn’s story demonstrates beautifully the path from victim to survivor to heroine. Please know that it is not always easy to hear about the abuse someone endured for years. We hope that in the reading you will learn and understand more about abuse and double abuse, and that compassion will arise within you. If you are a victim or survivor, we hope you are validated, feel seen and be reminded that you are not alone. What we love most about Lyn’s story is the hope it can give you when you witness the freedom from abuse she achieved as well as the success at realizing her dreams. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, friends. We hope you will continue to journey toward the light.
I realized on my honeymoon that I had made a terrible mistake. When we were dating, I saw glimpses of his temper, but I had always downplayed and made excuses for him, and for some reason I truly believed that I would never become the target of his aggressions. I was wrong. On our honeymoon, I began to see and feel his anger and cruelty. But I was a Christian, and I had entered the marriage bringing an 8 year old son with me, so I was determined to somehow make the marriage work. I thought that if I prayed enough, and I never made any mistakes, he would have no reason to hurt and scare me. Again, I was wrong.
In the beginning, I would try to stand up to the cruel words and unfair accusations, but the more I tried to defend myself, the more heated his temper became. It was very scary and eventually I learned that it was better to not fight, not argue, and to avoid upsetting him at all cost. The problem was, no matter how many self-help books I read, no matter how I tiptoed, eventually he would be triggered anyway, and the wrath of cruel words and intimidating behavior would come. Shortly into the marriage he began drinking nightly and he would typically be on his computer from morning till night, often gaming, sometimes talking with people I didn’t know, and doing who knows what else. I went to bed alone most nights.
As time went on, my life revolved around avoiding upsetting him, protecting my kids from him, and pretending to my children and the world around us that everything was okay. When our first baby was born, I slept on a mattress on the floor of her room because it was very upsetting to him if she woke him up. I slept on that mattress for 5 years, until all of our babies were old enough to not interrupt his sleep. No one knew the lengths I went to each day to make sure his anger wasn’t triggered. It was exhausting.
He had started his own business before we were married and “the plan” was that I would stay home with our babies and go to college part-time so that I could one day have my own career. But after we got married, he seemed to forget all about the plan and he insisted that I instead help him with his business. If I ever tried to remind him of my hope to get an education and work with at-risk youth, he would tell me that I am selfish for wanting to do that instead of helping him. In business, he had constant conflicts with staff members and clients, so my role was to fill-in each time a staff member quit and to calm clients when they became angry. I would help him with the business for a while, we’d hire someone new so that I could be home with the kids, but time and time again employees would quit, or there’d be a problem with a client, and I’d feel obligated to pick up the pieces to help hold things together.
As the years went by, I felt like my soul was dying. I was crying regularly in private and struggled with depression and insecurity, but I was trying desperately to act okay for my kids. I asked him to leave a few times, but he would always convince me that things would be different. I repeatedly forgave the screaming, the insults, the scary intimidating behavior, the drinking, the lying, the secret bank account and cell phone, the dating websites, the neglect. The brief periods of charm that would typically follow the bigger abuse episodes – writing me poems, making me CD’s with romantic songs, fancy dinners, expensive gifts, promise after promise – would cause me to believe that maybe things would finally change. And when the charm didn’t work, he would resort to fear tactics and threats, warning me that if I ever left that he would take everything from me – my children, our money, our friends – and that even God would abandon me. I had no local family to support me, no education, no career of my own, no money of my own…I began to wonder if the only way out was death.
I had tried to reach out to others for help on multiple occasions, but each time, he would downplay what he had done, tell lies about me, and he would make it sound like somehow I was responsible for his behavior. He really was a brilliant liar – he would swear so strongly that he hadn’t done the things he’d done that it even made me question reality at times – and friends weren’t sure what to think, so they would often just choose to “not be in the middle.” Sadly, it’s common for people to discount the gravity of abuse because they think that if it was really that bad, the victim would just leave. But the reality is that living in a domestic violence environment, whether the abuse is physical, verbal, emotional, spiritual, financial, or a combination of all those things, is incredibly traumatizing. People often don’t understand that when you are living in a traumatic environment, you feel powerless. You are living each day in survival mode and your brain does not function at full capacity because you are exhausted and beat down. Each day is spent in fight, flight, or freeze mode. Which is exactly where I was for many years, and I was desperate for someone to hear me, believe me, help me, rescue me, but instead I felt alone.
I had saved a bottle of Vicodin that had been prescribed for a previous surgery, and every once in a while, I would pull the bottle out and contemplate taking them. But every time I would think of my children and I knew I could never hurt them that way or abandon them into the same environment that I was trying to escape. Out of desperation, I went to a counselor that a friend had recommended and I told him that I wanted to somehow save my marriage. The counselor replied, “we can’t really work on your marriage with you here alone, but we can work on you.” I spent the next few years working on me, figuring out how I was participating in the dance of abuse, why I chose that type of relationship in the first place, how I had been trying to avoid and numb the pain, and how my codependency was impacting me and my children.
After 14 years in that environment, a moment came when I finally felt strong enough to stop the abuse cycle. I was standing in our garage and my husband was mad at me about something. He was screaming at me – the insults just kept coming. Something inside of me snapped and I had this thought that even if I really was the worst human on the entire planet, I still didn’t deserve this cruelty. Even if it meant being homeless with nothing, I wasn’t going to take one more day of the abuse. I was done.
I wish that I could share that everything got better from that point on, but it didn’t. For a while, it got worse. When I told him it was over, he followed through with every threat he made. He entered my house when I wasn’t home and he bugged it so he could listen to and record my conversations, and he put software on my computers so he could watch everything I was doing. He hacked my email accounts, he emailed my friends and family members and told them lies about me and he shared private things with them about my youth that I had confided in him about. Even worse, in an effort to turn them against me, he told all the same lies and private things to my young children. He sent derogatory letters to my pastor and to my place of employment. He insisted to everyone that I had left him for another man, that I had a mental disorder, that I wanted all of his money, and he fought tooth and nail to get out of providing support to me and my children. One of the most traumatizing things he did was he made up a fake child abuse claim and he took my youngest son from me for months. He changed my son’s cell phone number so I couldn’t call him for a period of time, and he even made a false abuse claim to the police which ensured he got temporary custody while the state investigated the situation. Thank God that time (and a lot of money spent in court) eventually revealed the truth. The courts ended up protecting me and my children, but the trauma we endured throughout that series of events was excruciating.
Here’s the part where I tell you the happy news: What I learned from surviving all of the trauma and pain is that I was able to survive all the trauma and the pain! Every bad thing that I was afraid might happen if I left did happen, but even so, I survived! My kids survived! And not only did we survive, we are thriving. In spite of the initial chaos, in spite of me making some poor choices as I was leaving, God was there opening new doors. I joined an abuse recovery program, I was able to get a job, and I went back to school. I earned a GED, then a bachelors, and then a master’s degree! I even started a school for children with learning disabilities, and I now get to spend my days impacting children’s lives. My kids and I have found so much healing, and years down the road, I am happily remarried to a very kind man. Everything that I thought I had lost, everything that I thought I would never have, God has redeemed and provided.
I used to be afraid to share my story. I lived for years in fear and shame, keeping the truth tucked away, hoping that no one could see the scars, the pain, the truth of the past. But as a survivor of abuse, the problem is, without the proper support, the pain can never truly stay in the past. The pain haunts you, in nightmares, in insecurities, in emotions, in memories of things you’d prefer to forget. And even as I found healing from the abuse itself, one thing that felt almost harder to heal from was the pain that I carried from feeling misunderstood and not supported by some friends and church members who discounted the abuse, didn’t want to get involved, or simply told me to pray more, be more patient, or that God would never approve of divorce. As good intentioned as those people may have been, their lack of support and understanding caused me to feel isolated and unprotected (I later learned that the M3ND Project calls this Double Abuse). I can’t tell you how thankful I was when I learned about The M3ND Project. I read Annette’s story and tears streamed down my face as I felt like there was someone, a whole group of people, who understood what I had lived through. Just knowing that I wasn’t alone brought some healing, and then I went through The M3ND Project course and I experienced even deeper healing. I am sharing my story now in the hope of helping someone who feels like I did all those years ago – someone who might be living in an abusive situation and not sure how to find help. If that is you, I want to tell you that you are not alone. You are not crazy. No matter what you have ever done in your life, you do not deserve to be treated with cruelty. You are God’s creation and He loves you so much, and I promise you, there is hope for a good future.