*trigger warning - talking about physical and sexual abuse*
Sometimes when people talk about "being blessed", it can leave us feeling left out, isolated, decidedly "unblessed" due to difficult circumstances in our lives.
You've probably seen or heard it said "don't compare your life to someone else's highlight reel" and I can't stress this enough.
When we find ourselves in the middle of trauma or abuse, it is easy to think that we must have REALLY blown it in order to find ourselves here. And not only that, we sure aren't "being blessed"! Where does that leave us?
It's hard to speak to anyone about this struggle because we often feel so much shame "Look what I've gotten myself into", "People are going to think I'm a loser for this", "I'm a fake! If I was who I claim to be, I wouldn't be in this situation".
These are just some of the defeating lies the enemy whispers in our ears to keep us down.
It is the enemy who smothers us in shame, not God. It is the enemy who tries to convince us that we are to blame for the abuse that someone else commits, rather than it being the other person's choice.
I have done a lot of reading about narcissists and who they target since my own experience and what I found was encouraging. I read that narcissists prefer to target people who are kind and forgiving, people who tolerate the behaviours of others in an effort to keep the peace in a relationship. If you've been abused by a narcissist, what it actually means is that you have a good heart. Although abuse can make it seem like becoming cold and hard will make us safer, it really doesn't. Please choose love, no matter what. Of course, I don't mean to continue to stay in an abusive situation. I mean to continue being a loving person and allow others to benefit from your gifts, while learning how to create distance when you find yourself getting close to another possibly abusive situation.
Let me tell you my story.
When I returned to Canada from the Gaza Strip after being seriously ill in 2010, I brought with me the man that I had married in Gaza in 2009. I thought he was a great guy, just a bit undisciplined (which isn't always a bad thing!) He was with me through my hospitalization and I begged the Canadian embassy to let him accompany me home as I was afraid to travel alone in such fragile condition and we wanted to be together.
Very shortly after arriving in Canada. he met some new friends and I was happy for him. I was struggling to recover and so accepted that I wasn't much fun to be around.
I tried to complete his immigration documents but was unable to understand what I was reading, which was a lingering affect of the brain injury I had sustained. The forms didn't make any sense at all, and when I'd ask for his help, he would angrily tell me that he wasn't Canadian and so shouldn't be expected to know how to fill out the forms.
Instead, he started going out more often and for longer periods of time with his new friends. He started staying out for days, up to a week, at a time.
If I called and asked where he was or what he was doing or when he would be home, I got an angry response and was blasted "Why should I have to stay home?? There's nothing to do!"
I couldn't disagree. I wasn't able to do much at that time.
As I began to recover, suddenly my hair started falling out. I was horrified. I had thick hair my whole life, but now I was getting what I called "runways", bare strips of scalp showing through.
When I would wash my hair in the shower, I would pull away handfuls of hair, to my shock and horror. I would stand under the water, my hands shaking, tears pouring down my cheeks, and stare at the clumps of hair in my hands.
When I would mention it to him, his response was "So what? I'm bald! Do you think I want to be bald??" and I would immediate silence myself.
I didn't know the cause of my hair loss and so I didn't know if it would grow back. Finally, it stopped falling out, for which I was very grateful.
I started getting sick benefits because I wasn't able to work and finally was able to get into a self employment program to learn to create my own business. I was excited and hopeful!
With him always asking me for money so he could go out with his friends and the other expenses I needed to cover, I found it necessary for me to take a part time job.
With the self employment program, I was allowed to work part time as long as it was for a limited number of hours per week.
Eventually, my hours crept up to where I was suddenly kicked out of the program without any discussion. I hadn't realized that my hours had crossed the threshold. I was devastated and very disappointed.
At this point, the fights at home were getting louder and more violent. When I was asking him to stay home and stop leaving for days at a time, he would grab my arm and pull me into the bathroom, in front of the mirror. He would yell "LOOK AT US!" I was confused. "what do you mean?"
He would yell again "LOOK AT US! LOOK AT YOU AND LOOK AT ME!" I saw a woman who was struggling to recover and who had lost a lot of hair and certainly didn't look her best.
I'd ask again "What do you mean? What am I looking at?"
Then he'd land the final blow "WE DON'T LOOK LIKE WE BELONG TOGETHER! LOOK AT ME AND THEN LOOK AT YOU!!!"
I was humiliated. How could I argue with that? I looked terrible. On top of that, the brain injury had robbed me of my confidence. I had nothing to say.
And he'd go out, convincing me that he deserved so much better than to be stuck at home with me.
I don't know how I managed to pay rent, feed us (my youngest son was living with us), pay the household bills and manage to keep giving him all the money that he took to spend.
I later learned that the money he had was being spent on mostly cocaine and ecstasy, as well as a few other things.
He would routinely take my car and get parking tickets as he had no respect for the laws, for me, or for money. It was exhausting.
But I was so ashamed of the mess I was in that I kept trying to make peace with him. It took nothing more than direct eye contact to set him off into a rage.
I began taking drugs that would make me lethargic so that I didn't risk responding more than he wanted me to and thereby raging at me again.
I felt so bad for my son, having to witness all of this so I did want I felt necessary to calm the raging.
Then he added a new twist to our relationship.
Whenever I was about to leave to go to church or work or visit a friend (or anything), he would insist on engaging in sex first. He claimed he loved me and was going to miss me and it wasn't fair for me to just go out like that.
I hated it but would comply to avoid another fight. When I would protest, he would get angry and accuse me of neglecting him.
He would always choose to time this just as I was about to walk out the door so I had to either leave dirty or miss out on what I was supposed to do.
Shame washed over me like an ocean. I was drowning and didn't know how to get out.
I was still in a mental state where I believed I couldn't take care of myself as well as feeling guilty about kicking him out because he was in a foreign country because of me.
So the months dragged on. The thing about abuse is that it keeps eroding your heart and mind, and coupled with the brain injury, I really didn't see any options.
But I continued to heal! I had to work very hard on my healing but I was reading books about the brain that convinced me that I had every reason to hope for a good healing!
I pressed on.
Was I blessed? You might say no, not at all - and it would be hard to disagree, but God never left me. It was God who gave me the mind and wisdom to keep reaching for books and online resources so I could learn about my brain and how to help it recover.
It was God who kept me alive in spite of frequent threats and intimidations.
I finally started noticing that not only was he leaving for extended periods of time, but he was also "breaking up with me" but only doing it as a means of scaring me into being alone. I realize that to you, this doesn't seem like much of a loss but to my continued insecurity, this was frightening. As bad as it was, I wasn't sure how I'd cope having to take care of myself.
What I didn't realize, is that I was gradually healing and getting stronger mentally and emotionally.
Finally, the day came when he "broke up with me" again and left for a few days. This time I was ready. When he returned, I had already packed up all of his belongings and had them outside for him.
I had a reliable vehicle and I was making progress with work as well. I was feeling stronger and more confident and realized that I could choose to end this abusive relationship, no matter what he said.
When he arrived home that time, I had locked the door. He hadn't brought his key. When he knocked, I opened the window and informed him that he wasn't coming in and that all of his belonging where packed up for him.
He raged loudly, calling me every name under the sun, telling me how unfair I was being to deprive him of his home, but I stood my ground.
I offered to drive him to the bus so he could go back to his friend's home. He was furious. I remained remarkably calm because I realized that freedom for my son and I was imminent. All that stood in the way was one more car ride.
As I was driving him to the bus, he was, of course, raging at me, threatening me and demanding that I allow him to come him. I wasn't persuaded. In an attempt to intimidate me, he punched the windshield of my car from where he sat in the passenger's seat. The window broke badly enough that I couldn't not safely drive my car without replacing it.
As was intended, that action scared me. If he had enough force to break a car window with a punch, how much more damage could he do to me?
I was no longer going to give him an opportunity to let me find out and kept driving.
In the weeks after I dropped him off at the bus, I began hearing from people that I was horribly mean and cold to just kick him out "for no reason". His friends believed his story.
I later learned that our marriage wasn't valid and is considered null and void.
I was free.
Was I blessed? Absolutely! I am alive, and healed. God has blessed me with wisdom and knowledge that I didn't have before.
My son and I were protected from terrible consequences that were otherwise possible.
I have not become cold and cynical, but rather I have grown in my empathy and understanding of what it's like to suffer trauma and how that affects our brain.
I have studied the brain for almost 10 years now and I have learned how to help myself and to help others.
Had I never been in that abusive situation, I might not have been so motivated to learn so much about the brain.
In the years since, I have had the privilege of helping people who have suffered traumas of various types or their loved ones.
I have hope!
Am I blessed? I sure am! And I am doubly blessed in that God has taken my terrible experience and made it a training ground from which I can do so much more for so many people.
I am grateful!
Any my hair has completely grown back to its former thickness and shine!
Linda blends warmth, wisdom and humour into every presentation. Enjoy the ride!