The Artwork displayed in this piece is by Photographer JR Korpa from Malaga, Spain.
Note to reader: This story references physical abuse.
When I found out that you had a friend you were worried was in an abusive relationship, I wanted to speak up. And I didn’t. Back then I was too afraid to admit the truth and what you might think of me.
I’m in a different place now. Maybe it was my work that kept me quiet. Maybe that’s an excuse. Maybe it was shame. My position was higher profile, people depended on me, I felt the need to maintain a certain reputation, you know?
Seriously though, who would want it known that their CEO was once in an abusive marriage? What would people think? Would they still trust me to run an organization when I had done such a poor job running my own life?
But now I can see that it was a mistake not to speak up. People might have denied me but they also depended on me for certain things, for programs and grants to keep those programs running, and donations, so we could keep doing what we loved. And for keeping the peace. That worked sometimes, other times not so much. When it comes to peace, we are each responsible for the lack of it. Placing blame only makes you a part of the problem.
But what was at stake was so much greater than my reputation, like children and their safety, for one thing. I know because I put my own child at risk. My fear of speaking up increased that risk.
Those were just a few of the thoughts on what kept me silent.
Now I no longer represent an organization, but I do represent a God who offers grace, and I know is also able to transform lives. Let’s start there. What if I had spoken up? People would have been able to see, that if God could work to change and heal me, who couldn’t he?
It’s taken me fifty years to step forward with my own story of abuse. Why? Because I have spent my life trying to protect people and I don’t want the same for your friend.
There was a contradiction in my mind about what it meant to let go of the past, to not look back. Looking back, I thought, would hold me back.
But we can’t let the pain and shame go until we do go back and walk through what still lives in the part of the brain where there is no language.
Did you know there was such a place? A place where pain is sent when what happened was too painful for you to deal with? I didn’t. I’m learning more all the time. The trauma remains there until you go back, go in, and find the courage to move through it so you can find healing. Not alone, of course. God’s Spirit shines light on it all and leads the way by turning you into a warrior instead of a victim.
God goes to great lengths to walk through pain with people. Eventually, I did ask Jesus if he would mind going there with me. He didn’t mind at all. In fact, he was waiting.
When we are violated, when things happen that are not our fault and we lose our sense of self worth, of value and our identity to shame, guilt, and fear, they claim our lives. They did mine.
What happened? Oh, the usual things. You know, for example, the feelings of worthlessness that a person goes to great lengths to hide or outperform. And the need to be perfect. Also a tendency to want to please in order to win others’ approval because you think you need it. All the while you are lying to yourself and others about the truth that is going on behind the facade you’ve created. I could go on but you get the idea.
Eventually, it becomes exhausting, the load too heavy, you start to crack, but you forget what it was like not to have to haul the big facade around with you. It becomes cemented to you, so you keep adding more cement.
What if one day, in spite of all this, someone comes along and you realize you’re not alone, turns your world upside down and inside out? You are given the hope of being genuinely loved and forgiven and accepted just as you are—the way Jesus loves you. In fact, he has lots of friends. Once you ask Jesus to take the journey with you, he sends people to you, the right kind of people to help you at just the right time.
When you realize you are ready to be free of the facade that has for so long stolen who you were created to be, you can begin to receive the grace and courage and strength to step right into that pain. Then keep moving through it, taking deep, full breaths again and exhaling. You can feel the release, and you begin to gain the freedom you’ve longed for.
Maybe you can imagine what your friend is carrying. It’s so hard to keep up that brave front. And it gets harder until even your own heart becomes hard. That’s no way to live. Believe me, I tried.
All these years I’ve tried to protect people, keep the dark dungeon that held my demons locked up by not speaking up, out of fear of bringing shame to others. But the beauty of truth is that it points to our need for a Savior.
When at forty, I finally realized my need for help, the transformation began. I left an abusive relationship. And after a couple rocky years of more rocky relationships, I got down on my knees, holding the sharp edges of the broken pieces of my hard broken heart. I surrendered. I wasn’t even sure what all I was surrendering, but we don’t have to know that. God will bring it to our attention when we’re ready to handle it. He knows when. We can’t rush it or it might break us again. God knows this.
Now I am twenty-eight years into that journey and I feel I owe you a huge apology. When you told me about your friend all those years ago when I didn’t speak up, I want you to know how sorry I am. Yes, I was in denial, but also afraid. Afraid of what?
The list is long. It was easier, I thought, to haul all that baggage around. But it wore me down, and then wore me out, I made myself ill with that weight, and had to finally lay it all down. I don’t want that for your friend, or for anyone.
I prayed this morning and asked God to shine through me, so that I can produce fruit to help others. Maybe sharing this, as much as I wish it wasn’t a part of my story, is my fruit.
Back when I needed help, domestic violence wasn’t ever talked about and there wasn’t an internet. That’s not the case today.
There is help available.
With gratitude to JR Korpa for the use of these photographs, and Unsplash.
If you or someone you know is in a violent situation, please reach out. And if you live in the Milwaukee area, a wonderful place to start is the Sojourner Family Peace House: Our 24-Hour Domestic Violence Hotline (414) 933-2722 also receives calls for information and support, and can help callers of all ages. All calls are confidential. TEXT: (414) 877-8100
It is estimated that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. If you are experiencing domestic abuse or are a friend or family member of a person being abused, there are local services that can provide support. Please reach out for assistance. Wisconsin Department of Children and Families: https:www.dcf.wisconsin.gov/domesticabuse
And you can always call 911 if you are in immediate danger.