The quoted letter was written to my X during the last three years of our “marriage”.
In this post, I’m responding to myself in the past, correcting a few of those old perspectives. I wonder what I’ll think of it after a few more years of healing?This might be helpful to you or someone you know. I hope so. It is encouraging to me, at least.
To XXXX, (Name erased to keep people sane.)
I’m glad you’re working on our marriage with me. (Really? He was working on our marriage? How sweet of me to think so.) I’m relieved to know it’s important enough to you that you will try to face it. I always wonder, you know, if it’s the kids or myself that keeps you here.
Actually, it was neither. Well, he really thought his desire to control me was love, and still thinks he loves the people who please him. Oh, well. We had always been convenient to manipulate, so he stayed with us because we played our roles in his dramas. In the end, I had to play the unsubmissive wife and pay the social price of being the one to leave. We both wanted the role of misunderstood victim, and it wasn’t working very well, since he didn’t think I deserved it.
So, let’s face the worst of it for you again. The thing I wrote you about earlier this year.
I figured out at some point that talking about solving his problems might mean he’d actually hear some of what I said.
What if I never change? Do you think you can love me the way I am now, and somehow find a way to be happy with me and compensate for my weaknesses?… I’ve been myself my whole life.
It took me long enough to realize that I was actually a person, not a malleable plastic doll for him to customize.
In fifth grade I was spanked every day by the teacher because I daydreamed in class. (From what mom says, it was probably 3rd grade. She’s still apologizing for not having realized what was going on sooner.) Every day. I got used to it. Expected it. And I never learned not to daydream. I do it even now. But I loved and respected that teacher, even though she was wrong in how she handled the situation. I still love and respect her. She wanted me to be a better person and the only way she could see to do that was to change me. It was because she loved me.
Wow! That was super-abusive, and I used to think I deserved it. “Of course” one must beat a child for daydreaming. Hah!
I think spanking isn’t as helpful as people make it out to be, and might just teach kids that if people don’t do what you want it’s okay to hit. My kids respond far better to constructive methods, and I was so messed up and controlling back when I conformed to the spanking paradigm. I’m surprised my kids still love me.
Even my dorm parents had the same trouble with me. I would forget tasks, move when it was better to be still, come up with impulsive ideas that they wouldn’t understand. I was often yelled at and also spanked by them. Not so frequently, but enough so I remember it. I was always the neglectful one, the one with her head in the clouds. Even back then I failed when I tried to be different.
And this is pretty much how I saw myself. A failure at being someone worthy.
When any person (who happens to have some power over anyone) fails to accept anything other than their own idea of how individuals should live, then they WILL teach the judgmental lies that they believe…. Only their followers end up hating themselves and idealizing their abusers, reflecting that wrong mindset as instructed.
“Nice work” for “leaders” who claimed to be acting as god’s representatives. I do not think God is who you think he is.
Yet somehow, I was still a friend to many people, even when I was completely convinced by the adults in my life that I was worthless, that I needed to change. I couldn’t believe these people were my friends, but I loved them all the same, and they came to me when they needed someone to be there for them. I didn’t even notice that this was my strength back then. I loved them while hating myself for being worthless. And sometimes I was the only one who could break someone out of their shell. Later in high school and even after graduating, people began to tell me what they had seen in me back then. But I didn’t really believe it was worth much, though I treasured those people whom I loved and still do even though I am still the same me that daydreamed every day, even though I knew I would have a spanking.
I really didn’t believe I was worthy of friends. Everyone who was remotely nice came across as a radiantly beneficent being, above other humans in their ability to tolerate my unworthiness.
So, for years I’ve been trying to change this self. Gradually I’ve learned that God is using me even though I’m me.
You know, even mistaken understandings of God can be brighter than the lies they replace. I’m thankful to be beyond this point now, but back then it was a relief to think of God as skillful enough to compensate for having such a disaster of a person as myself attempting to follow him, replacing the idea that he was unable to do a thing with me and had rejected me entirely.
But, for some reason, it’s not enough for you, being myself. Like everyone else, you hate compensating for my weaknesses. (I felt God must feel this way, too. Sadly.) I am a burden because of them, and not a strength or a help to you. I want to change. I’ve always wanted to be different. But I have not managed it, nor has God suddenly and miraculously seen fit to bestow these abilities on me.So, what are we to do? The possibility of dramatic change is minimal. I am better now than ten years ago, but still not good enough.
Shockingly, (I still find it surprising) I’m quite capable of accomplishing many things when they are in my skill set and calling. I can outwork most people when it comes to the things I’m designed to do. Who knew?
Maybe I’m not supposed to be different than myself. Maybe I’m “good enough” as I am. Maybe it’s okay to take it easy when you’re tired. Maybe I get to choose what is most important to do? Maybe I don’t have to be accomplished at “everything” even if it’s practical. Maybe I would actually have to be a different person with a different life to be skilled at different things?
Maybe the people who expected me to change were … WRONG!
And maybe it’s okay to consider dishes a “project” to do when I have the need or inclination instead of using their level of completion as a sign of my worthiness.
And now there is something physical as well, to complicate the picture. It’s not just self-discipline. There will be times when I genuinely can’t take care of myself, never mind you and the kids. They may become few and far between with healthy lifestyle changes and discipline, but those times will occur.
This “something physical” is severe chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia brought on by constant stress.
The one time I was forced to go to a psychologist by my husband–in hopes I would be labeled with something to show I was the one with a problem–she suggested during our first meeting that I consider leaving. Turns out her prescription was spot on, even though I gasped in shock and rejected the idea at the time.
Since leaving, I’m much more healthy and continually improving. I might even be capable of holding down a part time job now, two+ years after leaving him. Though I’m using that energy to build a business that can adjust around any flare-ups, thanks to my parent’s support and encouragement.
I can’t expect people to come in from outside to take care of me, and you don’t want to. I obviously can do some of it on my own most of the time, but sometimes even that is too much. So who do I turn to? Who will help me when I can’t help myself? Who will be there when the world turns dark and my mind fades until I can’t remember what I was thinking or what might be possible? Will you? Can you do it, and without bitterness or anger? I want to believe you can.
Yup, I just couldn’t believe he didn’t even care. Somewhere, somehow, I must matter to him, or how could he say he loved me? It was very, very difficult to believe he actually didn’t have the character I wished he had, and that he verbally claimed to have. He was not the good person I was trying to believe in.
Believing lies about people, even their own lies, isn’t constructive to relationship. It is possible to care about someone while being fully aware of their tendency to be abusive, and the way you handle them is more likely to enable them to get a clue … or at least give up on you as a victim, which is fine, because the relationship never was that mythological construct anyway, so you’re not losing anything real.
Right now it’s like in fifth grade again. I’m punished every day. Frustration. Anger. Resentment. I can’t even see that you love me.
Which is because he didn’t love me. He loved the way I would sometimes make him feel, and tried his best to make me make him feel that way all the time. In other words, he used me like a drug to stimulate himself and as a tool to take care of him, and when I couldn’t fulfill that role … well … Let’s just say it’s easy to be nice when you feel you have what you deserve, and not so easy when you’re deprived of your addiction.
I love you. I want to believe it’s because you want the best for me, and the only way you can see for that to happen is to change me. But. I think I keep breaking even more because of it. I can expect it. (His treatment of me.) I can live with it. I can love even inside it. Because God does give me that, even if He doesn’t give me what I really want … to be different than I am.
Yeah. The only reason I wanted to be different is because other people wouldn’t accept me, and I wanted to be accepted.
Now that I’m away from the people who dislike me, it turns out I like myself after all! Oh, and my long list of close friends love, love, love me. So there, past self, you had no clue how lovable you are!
I’m still in a debate if I should call my emotional relationship to him “love.” I was so warped and messed up and deluded and afraid…. Can that really be called love? I recently came across the term “trauma bonding” and that fits much better.
I used to wish one of us would die, preferably him so I could take care of the kids in peace, because I didn’t trust him to treat them well. So … yeah. I hope he has a positive life now that I’m not there to annoy him, or maybe I hope he has experiences that will take him out of his twisted perspective and into a more healthy relationship with people. Generally, though, I just don’t care unless it affects the kids or myself. I refuse to think I have responsibility for him any longer.
I want you to see.
I wish you could see how treasured I am, and by a lot of people. I don’t claim this lightly. These are things I’ve been informed of directly, sometimes by the person themselves or by a second party. I have helped lead people to Christ. God used me to pull multiple people out of depression. I encourage people and God has used me that way since I was a child. I love because God gave me that ability. I reach out because I can’t help but do it when I am obeying. I create beauty because it’s another way of sharing light. I write because God uses it to encourage and correct the thinking of those who read it.
Yes. I am worthless.
Holy SMOKING weapon of truth … Aaaaugh! I was so blind. You know, I really didn’t believe the above list was valid proof of my worth. It didn’t even occur to me that God doesn’t maintain worthless people. I exist because I have value. Well, the God I followed back then was pretty much a man-behind-the-curtain, and an evil one, too. But still … *shudder*
But that’s okay, because God has used me to bless others anyway. It isn’t my worth that matters. It’s God’s. And He has always compensated for me.
Well, today I wouldn’t say he compensates. It’s more like he’s really happy that he made me, just like I get all excited over my artwork even while it’s in process. If it wasn’t beautiful and worthwhile to me, I wouldn’t make it.
I just don’t understand why it never seems to be enough for you. Is it because I don’t give you what I give even to random strangers? Am I so empty that I can’t see you? Are you my blind place? So many people are thankful, even for something so simple as my smile! I’m always telling God that it’s a mystery to me how He can use something so small to bring grace. But He has reassured me, in spite of your insistence that what I do is worth nothing, that it is indeed treasured by more people than even I know! Maybe this is how He strengthens me to face you. I don’t know.
It took over ONE HUNDRED people saying positive things about me to counteract the small handful of X, his family, and his church telling me all the things that were wrong with me. That is how powerfully destructive such words in the hands of people who don’t leave room for personal integrity are, my friends.
People don’t stay in abusive relationships because they want to be treated that way.
They stay because they really can NOT see any other way, and might not even know who they are if they’re not abused. They stay because abusers are naturally against personal boundaries, and invade into personal decision-making places without even noticing that is what they are doing. Victims stay because they become used to decisions being made for them or severely restricted, because they only are supposed to follow. Even the smallest act of rebellion or personal decision-making becomes equal to lifting an added 300lb weight, placed on the “unapproved” decision by the abuser.
If you were them you might not be able to do it (especially after having your boundaries eroded that way.) It takes training to for someone who has been eroded away like that to even learn to NOTICE, never mind fight against abuse, which is why so many end up in another abusive relationship after escaping the one they were in. This wearing away is also the reason abuse escalates. At first, they might fight back sooner, but after a while they get used to it, and the abuser sees an opening to invade even further, testing the boundaries to see what they can get away with.
In the end, they want to CONTROL as much as possible, one way or another, and they will control spiritually or emotionally long before they reach the physical threshold, mostly because it’s conveniently difficult to trace or identify.
And if you think a friend saying, “they are wrong” is powerful enough to counteract that consistent of an attack, then you are severely deluded. I hope you don’t try to become like the abuser and take over the decision to leave, or you’ll just further the victim’s beliefs that they deserve to have decisions made for them because they’re worthless. (Never mind the only true protection is to learn to see and defend against it.)
You can be consistent in exposing the abusive lies, verbal about the positive things you observe in the victim, and strongly on the victim’s side,… OH … and extremely, extremely careful that nothing you say could be misunderstood as agreeing with the abusers. And then, rally the troops if you can. It will take time, teamwork, and dependability to break through the mental wall the abusers build in those they control, especially if they’ve had enough time to brainwash their victim, or are building on a previous pattern remaining in a survivor.
Or is it possible you don’t see who I am? That you don’t see what God is doing in me, because you have your own plan for how things ought to be and I don’t fit the image?
BINGO! That’s the nutshell, folks.
And this is one reason why emotional compatibility and respect are far more important than religious doctrine checklists if you’re going to talk about “equal yokes” as Evangelicals are so fond of doing.
The fact is, some people really are not capable of seeing the value in certain types of people–or women in general–for some reason. Maybe it’s religious/social programs or emotional damage, but it’s a real thing and not something you fix by “submitting” to it.
Also, nobody is a “last chance” for a relationship. And the loneliness that you find “together” with an abuser is more lonely than just having friends to hang out with for the rest of your life. I am not the only one who says this, but I don’t feel like digging up links right now. Check back later to see if I remember to add them.
So, I’m wondering.
What will you do if I don’t change? What will you do if my health gets worse, as it very well might? What will you do if I need help? What if I really need support in my brokenness in order to do what I can do? Support. Not condemnation and punishment for not being different than I am for yet another day.
Do you want to know what support looks like?
It looks like [ex-friend #1] calling around, herself, to find someone to give me a ride so I could join choir. It looks like a couple I don’t even know faithfully picking me up and taking me there. It looks like others supporting me so I don’t fall down walking on and off the stage so I can stand there and sing. Yes, I can sing, and I DID sing. But in order to do so, I needed everyone who participated in bringing me to the point where I could do the singing part. God used each of them where they were strong so I could be strong too.
Oh, he made a huge deal about, “You can sing in the choir, so you can do this checklist of household tasks, too. Why are you lying about being sick?” I couldn’t persuade him I wasn’t lying.
And then God blessed me to help with the arrangement of the choir as well, something needed and important, that I could not have done if I were not there. And I was able to give something back to the whole choir that they struggled with without me, something God gifted to me so I could be strong to shore up a weak place.
This was to contradict the, “You’re useless to everyone,” constant commentary. I really acted like I was in court, bringing witnesses. It’s sad that I felt the need to do so.
When others support my brokenness, then I can be where I am needed, to be what I already am and use the gifts God has already given me. That’s what the church is. And that’s what marriage should be too.
So why is it that even my strengths don’t seem to reach you? Why do you only see my brokenness? Should you really be with someone you despise so much?
You know. I think this last question should be the first one they ask in marriage counselling. Or maybe, “Does someone who despises you so much deserve to be in a relationship with you?” I think an honest answer would solve the hidden divorce rate.
I consider “hidden divorce” to be those who haven’t dissolved the legal paperwork even though they are strangling each other’s spirits, which can’t really be marriage, can it? Please agree that’s not marriage!!!
If God looks on the heart, as they love to quote, then surely he is not saying, “How nice they are still together!” as a husband pours vitriol down his wife’s mind day in and day out, poisoning her view of God and the universe in general, and treating God’s own handiwork (i.e. his wife) like trash. Or as she attempts to manipulate him into giving her love by treating him like god-incarnate.
I can’t change because of your anger. Anger has never changed me and it never will. It only breaks me further, disables my heart, and clouds my ability to find the first step as I tremble in fear that it will turn out to be the wrong step even after I take it.
A hard-won insight.
I told you that, remember? That I would try to stop responding that way. That I would do my best to do right because it is right, and to let you know when something is beyond my ability. But I can’t resist your anger. Eventually I broke down and started responding as always, directed by wrath and jolted by the strength of your frustration, even when I knew the task would be too much for me.
I’ve forgotten so much. How can I remember how many times I’ve failed to be what you desire me to be? I probably deserve your anger. Anyone would be frustrated with me, remaining who I am, with the same weaknesses, and never improving, never changing, never overcoming them.
Actually, no. There are many, many people who can’t even conceive of being frustrated with me for being who I am. Also, frustration tends to show up when you don’t get your own way. That’s it. A healthy person recognizes this as being their own response, not something forced on them by someone else’s actions. In the same situations, others would NOT feel the same way.
There is no first step anymore. God is already gracious where I am. Of course I will want to glorify Him. This will come through in the way I live. Sometimes I will be weak. But God uses me in other ways when I am physically weak. Sometimes I will be strong, and I will do those things I am given to do when I am strong. He will place new habits in my life, and remove those that don’t glorify Him.
This week I learned something.
God isn’t like my fifth grade teacher, or like my dorm parents, or like you.
Yaaaay! I’m so glad I finally figured that out.
It must be … interesting … to be God and see how your reputation is affected by all these humans using your name and saying who you are all the time, without much care for your actual character. Of course, it’s not surprising given that nobody is taught to open their spirit for a direct connection these days. We all “relate by proxy” by reading letters or listening to others talk about someone who is sitting right there, wanting to converse personally.
He loves me right now as I am. And He promises that if I’m willing to relinquish myself to Him, that He will shore up my weaknesses, take my burdens, and use me as I am. I am not the one who will tell Him what that should look like. He tells me.
Back then I still thought I was entirely wrong and needed to be replaced in order for God to connect with me. It was a bit like going to him, expecting to be slaughtered and rebuilt, and instead being invited in for tea and philosophy. It took me a while to realize there was no back room, full of blood, gore, and replacement parts.
I no longer see the times I hurt people, or am blind, or end up choosing the wrong actions, as insurmountable evil within that can never be lived down or healed. The times I realize that I don’t approve of myself or the results of my actions are simply opportunities to learn how to do better, to attempt to heal or fix the damage, to try again.
Because I approach life from the standpoint of love, I will eventually notice and learn, even if I’m sometimes shocked at how long it takes to realize that I was causing damage. Sometimes doing what other people expect me to do is the wrong choice. Sometimes thinking of myself prevents me from noticing I’m causing harm. It’s impossible to always get it right, especially when I’m functioning on a lot of unrecognized lies … so I don’t expect to be perfect right now, just consistently improving.
You know, it really is all about a relationship. By connecting with the Spirit, I see more clearly, and so it is easier to make better decisions and trust that good options are available. My spirit really can understand Wisdom when she speaks. If anything, I’m able to be the best of myself as I live forward.
And He will bring people to shore up my weak points so I can serve Him. Even if it isn’t you. Even if it’s never going to be you, though you have first rights to that position.
Well, I wouldn’t call it “shoring up weak points” anymore, since I have strengths by life experience and design, and you have strengths for the same reasons … and when we team up amazing things happen. Why anyone would call an inability to be everything to everyone a weakness is beyond me. It’s like blaming a fork for failing to cut steak in long, thin slices.
Now, if you’re talking about a fork actively going out and stabbing people, then it needs to learn not to act that way, but to really stop the fork it’s going to have to care about the fact that stabbing people hurts them. Otherwise, it will just secretly want to stab people and blame anyone who stops them. <– And this wasn’t me. I was a fork trying to be a gourmet steak knife, not a fork stabbing people on purpose.
But God won’t let you be a block to His use of me, even as He grows me because of you, so you will become an assistance to me whether you wish to or not. Either you will help Him strengthen me by supporting me, or you will help Him strengthen me by crushing me into ever-greater dependence on His strength. No matter what, you are a blessing from God, and I’m thankful for you, and for all the years of growing I’ve gone through with you.
Well, my perceptions were a bit distorted…. God is good enough at using what’s available to turn trash into treasure, but I don’t think my ex’s crappy treatment was a blessing. It was wrong, not okay, something for me to be protected from, and God did protect me the moment I gave up on the idea that I deserved to be treated that way and became willing to accept the “way of escape” that was offered to me all along.
But it was the creative process of healing that was the “blessing from God” … not the trashy relationship. He’s not going around breaking things so he can fix them, other than allowing broken things to fall away and make room for the better things instead. We just live in a world full of brokenness, and he’s good at creating good things. You think consciously shaping something out of nothing is amazing, just watch someone make something beautiful out of something ugly. Now THAT is amazing.
And because I am married to you, you can call on those strengths that God has given me to help you. And I would be so glad to be strong for you, instead of always a frustration and a drain. I try. I’ll keep trying. I’ll be creative to find new ways to love you and support you.
Sub-text: Because we think I’m your savior … you think I should be super-woman … and you need me to patch the gaps because you won’t be loving me. So I guess I’m your priestess-sacrifice … and maybe you are my lord-god?…. It should be a country song or something. Gah!
Also, let me point out my excessive repetition of “God” in this email. Sounding religious was extremely-important in order to be taken seriously. If I didn’t clearly say, at every turn, that God was responsible for the good things in my life, then I would be outing myself as a prideful arrogant woman, attempting to manipulate him into doing something evil, like respecting me or something. In fact, some of that mindset seems to have bled through into my responses … *sigh* Oh, well. I leave you to figure out whether God was intrinsic to reality even before I over-exposed, highlighted, underlined, and caricatured his presence.
I just can’t promise that it will look the way you want it to look. Because God’s blessings almost never look the way I thought they would. It was easy to be bitter about it for a long time. But now? I’m so thankful, even when I don’t understand how I can have become strong in God’s grace so many ways … and yet still remain completely broken when it comes to the only things you ask of me in our marriage.
Well, I had no idea God was drawing me to respectfully bury our dead marriage instead of prancing the stinking skeleton around and pretending it was alive.
Even now, saying this makes me wince with retrospective angst over the label of “heresy” and accusation of pride. YES! God, the Holy Spirit … Wisdom, herself, directed and guided me to leave my ex-husband … actively and miraculously and personally. And I really don’t expect anyone to believe me, any more than I expect them to believe in God after all the false images that are being projected of him everywhere.
I can only think God has another plan and His own time-table. So I’ll trust Him to change me as He will. Until I understand I’ll do my best to do what is right, in spite of my weaknesses.
And here I am today on a completely new path, using my strengths and insight from my experiences to encourage and support so many people.
Amazing to have come so far!
Nobody could ever have persuaded me that this was possible, but I have lived the path of freedom, healing, and growth … and I will continue to live this journey.
First published on my other blog. But maybe I am transitioning to this space after all … hmm.