Dancing to Lionel Richie on New Year's Eve.
Deek had a cold and didn't feel particularly well, but he still danced with me. <heart eyes>
In October, for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I wrote about my past experience in a domestically violent relationship. You can read about that here.
To expound up on that, I'd like to speak, in particular, to women of faith in abusive relationships. Deek says I should write a book about my experiences, and maybe I will. But writing and publishing take a long time, and some of you need to hear these words now. So here it goes.
I'm Southern, and I grew up in very devout family in the middle of the Bible Belt. When I was a little girl, I used to sit at the kitchen table and listen to my Mema sing songs about Jesus while she cooked. I went to Christian school during my last few years of high school, and though my college broke from the Southern Baptist Convention, I still had to take religion classes as part of my general education. In fact, I took so many that I have a minor in Religious Studies. I've led Bible studies, taught children's church, and directed church Christmas plays. To say religion and faith have had a big influence in my life and upbringing would be an understatement.
Me with my grandparents, who'd come to visit me at college
(excuse the squinty eyes--bright sunshine)
I got married at a young age, ready to start my wonderful little Christian adult life. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the boy I'd married was not what he'd claimed. Yep. You read that right.
I was married before Deek.
I am divorced.
I am remarried (spoiler alert: I'm remarried to the greatest man who's ever lived, so this story has a happy ending).
If you're like me and have grown up in a religious community, you can appreciate how hard it is for me to even utter the words "I am divorced," much less put them in a blog for the world to read. When I got married that first time, I intended it to be forever. My own biological parents are divorced (spoiler alert: my mom remarried, and I call that man my dad because he IS my dad--biology has no bearing on that). And although I am eternally grateful to have my dad in our lives, I never wanted to follow that path and be divorced.
Me and my beautiful Mama on her wedding day
But I'd married someone who purported to be one thing and ended up being another. So, I was stuck in a bad place, in a bad life. For years, I tried to make the best of it. I gave being a proper Christian wife the good, ole college try. I threw my whole self into making him happy and creating a nice home. But nothing made him happy, and our lives spiraled into dark, disturbing places.
Now, as a Christian woman, I was told to "never speak ill of my husband" and to "submit to him." I was told my body was his to do with as he pleased. So, I felt like I didn't have a voice. On the outside, I smiled and pretended everything was great, as I'd been instructed to do, but on the inside, I was dying. I was losing myself and being forced to do things I abhorred.
The fake smiles that I used to try to hide the truth about my life.
I joined a Bible study with a group of wonderful women. Our leader, whom I adored, told us we could tell the truth about ourselves and our lives in this group, and we built a circle of trust. As women in the group shed their masks and shared about eating disorders, their husband's pornography addiction, and other real truths about their lives, I opened up and shared one small thing--testing the waters. At the next meeting, the pastor stormed into the room and told us our Bible study was over. He said we'd been speaking ill of our husbands and could no longer meet, and he forced our Bible study leader to leave the church. All the women in the group were told to read a new book, about being better wives. This book said that we should not expect our husbands to change, so we should change ourselves instead.
Having attempted to speak out about my life and being summarily, and epically, shut down, I clammed up even more. And as a young woman of faith, I took the book's words to heart and tried to change myself. Every time my husband did something awful, I tried to turn it into a positive in my mind. And I died a little more inside. But instead of showing how much I hurt, how much that life was slowly killing me, I smiled and said nice things about the man who constantly hurt me. If you asked any of my friends about me at that time, they'd tell you they knew something was wrong in my life, but I always had a smile and an upbeat attitude.
As the days and years passed, and the violence escalated, I could no longer keep up the smiles. Every time I imagined my life in one year, five years, ten years, twenty years, the sheer weight of the depression that notion caused almost crushed me. But I stayed because good wives stay. Because my beliefs told me divorce was a terrible sin.
But it got harder to force those smiles.
Despite their outpouring of love, I still felt ashamed I hadn't been able to keep my marriage together, to be a "good," long-suffering Christian wife. And I felt an overwhelming sense of failure.
Over the last few years, I've been talking to other survivors and to women who are trying to bring attention to domestic abuse in churches. And I've come to realize we all have similar stories of staying way past the point we should have because our religious convictions and community structures kept us there.
So, I'd like to speak to women of faith right now...women of all patriarchal faiths, not just Christianity. Please, read this article and understand that you don't have to stay, and if you've already left, know you are a brave warrior for having made that hard choice.
You are NOT alone. There are others like you. Be strong. Be safe.
There are many, many agencies set up to help women get out of domestic violence. They can point you in the direction of lawyers and law enforcement to protect you. Here are some (but be sure to check the ones in your local area):
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: http://www.ncadv.org/
National Domestic Violence Hotline: http://www.thehotline.org/
Battered Women's Justice Project: http://www.bwjp.org/
Futures Without Violence: https://www.futureswithoutviolence.org/
National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence: http://www.ncdsv.org/
No More: http://nomore.org/
(Keep scrolling to see my REAL smile, brought about by the sheer joy of my life now)
Wedding photo shoot w/Deek
Deek and I got married twice, for both sets of families on opposite coasts.
At the second wedding, my PaPa walked me down the aisle!
Caught in a downpour
Deek makes me smile so big I think my face will crack! <3