In case you haven’t noticed, I like to get personal. I like to get to the heart of the matter and strike an issue at its core. I like to make people think. I like to inspire. Perhaps that is why I have been called “intense” my whole life. But I have learned to embrace it as a unique quality and use it as a gift. My hope is that my courage and honesty will touch you and by example help you to find your own voice.
I get scared of being vulnerable, just like most people do. People are afraid to appear weak. What they may not realize is that vulnerability is the only true strength. Where is the courage in hiding who you really are and how you truly feel?
I have been quoting Jesus a lot lately, but I guess that’s because I believe so strongly in love. I believe that his words embody the kind of love that I feel is true. Love is unconditional. It is being devoted to someone even when they fail us or show us weakness. We may not feel the romance or infatuation in our disappointment, but we are still loyal to the person we love. When we truly love someone, we stay even if they hurt us, because we are deeply invested in who they are as a person. This is the kind of love story Jesus embodies in the Bible.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…” I Corinthians 13:4-8. This is what true love is supposed to look like, but in our imperfection, we often fall short.
Jesus once said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies… He [God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good… If you love those who love you, what is your reward?” (paraphrased from Matthew 5:43-48)
It is the people that are hardest to love that need it the most. We live in a world with suffering and evil. No matter what you believe. No one can deny suffering or evil. It exists. That is why love is so important. It challenges us to rise above our faults and let go of our selfishness in order to reach out to others. It causes us to face our own demons and forgive others.
I am going to make a confession; I was in an abusive relationship. I want to share my story with you. As you are reading, remember, love never fails…
I love someone that is hard to love. He was the father of my child. I met him at a vulnerable time in my life when I was lost. The moment I saw him. I knew I wanted to know and love him, and I could tell that the feeling was mutual. It was not lust or pity. It was completely innocent. He had a history of addiction and rocky relationships. I had a history of PTSD and anxiety. We both suffered abuse growing up and that is why we had the issues we had. We wanted to save each other, but how can two drowning people rescue one another?
We tried anyway. We were both stubborn and loyal to a fault. I stuck by him after many drug relapses, picking him up in the middle of the night when he cried for help. He rubbed my back as I suffered chronic, round-the-clock morning sickness (it’s called “hyperemesis”– think having the flu 24/7) and held me when I felt unsure about becoming a mother.
We became homeless together (something I had never experienced in my life and would never wish on anyone). We ended up on the street because of his addiction, my sickness during my pregnancy (I was unable to work), and our irresponsibility with money. Going from couch to couch, sleeping in the car, and eventually in a tent. It was freezing in the tent, so he would hold me tight to shield the baby and me from the cold. We somehow ended up in Norwich, NY, even though we started out in Florida with barely enough gas money to get us to Georgia. On the way up to Norwich, I became discouraged. How would we make it? How would we eat? Where would we sleep? Would we ever be successful again?
My fears and anxiety caused an argument. I had to pull the car over and get sick on the side of the road. That is when the tears came. I could not stop them. I was so discouraged and felt like I had failed everyone, including my family, friends and unborn child. He pulled me into his arms and embraced me as I buried my head into his shoulder, sobbing. He lifted my chin, putting my wet face in his hands and said, “Look at me. Forget everyone else. Forget the people that disappointed you. It’s you and me. I am here. We are going to be okay.” He said it with such confidence and loyalty. I will never forget that moment as long as I live, because he gave me the courage to keep going when I wanted to just give up.
The father of my child landed in jail for a DWI (among other similar charges) shortly after we arrived in Norwich. I was frightened to be in a new place without him by my side. I was also pregnant for the first time in my life and scared I would not be able to provide for my child. I walked four miles to the jail on a few occasions if I could not get a ride to visit him on the weekends. I never missed a visit. I wrote him almost every day for the four months he was in jail. I sent him books to read and pictures to comfort him. He also wrote me a letter almost every day and called me two to three times a day.
While he was serving his time, I lost our child and had to give him the news over the phone. We were both devastated. He took it even harder when he found out it was a boy. He had always wanted a boy. We dreamed of getting married and having a family together one day. His face would light up every time he talked about being my husband and me being the mother to his children. I would have been a good mother.
After losing my child, I became so depressed that I almost did not want to live anymore. I blamed myself for losing my son, because it was most likely stress that caused me to lose him. But I knew my boyfriend needed me and that he was counting on me to be strong. I would get out of bed for him. I would go to work for him. I would write an encouraging letter, even when I felt hopeless, for him. I would give him the maximum amount of money I could give him weekly so that his time in jail would not be so hard. I would make sure there was always money on the collect call account so that I would never miss any of his calls. I would nag public attorneys, corrections officers, and the judge to try to find out how I could help him be free. Through everything, I never once even flirted with another man. I was devoted.
My co-workers would call me crazy and say I did too much for him. I told them that I wanted to. I wanted to be there and do everything that I could to let him know I cared. I did not care about his past mistakes or whether or not I was suffering. All I wanted was him safe in my arms…
The day he got out of jail was one of the happiest days of my life. He was happy too. But sitting in jail, feeling worthless, made him insecure. I had started rebuilding my life, becoming secure in who I was as a person. Because he met me at my worst and had been there during my darkest hours, he felt threatened that I no longer needed him. That is when the jealousy began. This caused me to resent him. Resenting him only increased his insecurities. His insecurities caused him to withdraw. As a result, I became just as insecure. The trust and faith we had in each other began to deteriorate.
We began relying on old habits we had learned in our abusive childhoods. Yelling, name-calling, blaming, etc. One night I was so angry with him that I could not help but blame him for everything bad that had happened to us. The guilt I forced on him shamed him. Not knowing how else to react and following in his father’s foot steps, he chose aggression as a way of getting control of a situation that had gotten so out of control. That is when he first pushed me. Gravity took over as I lost my balance and fell backwards into our living room wall. I would like to say it stopped there, but neither of us were very good at quitting.
You can imagine my embarrassment the first day I had to walk in to work with bruises covering my body. I was in shock when the man I loved more than anything first pushed me. Strangled me. Kicked me. Spit in my face. Smacked my head into a door frame. I was so ashamed of the bruises and the looks people would give me. Who had I become in the name of love? I was a middle-class raised, straight-laced, drug-free, college educated, cultured, intelligent woman. But I did not walk away, at least not right away.
It was not until an advocate at Catholic Charities looked me right in the eyes and told me that I was in danger that I decided to walk away. Chenango Catholic Charities and the many wonderful people I have met in this community helped me have the courage to remove myself from a hopeless situation. I became stronger day by day. I learned that I would be no good to him if I let the abuse continue, and I did not deserve it either. I decided to take care of me and hope that the changes I made would inspire a change in him.
To this day, I love him and remember all we shared. To this day people look at me and ask, “Why?” Their judgment disappoints and alienates me. Although they mean well, they are just as bad as him, because they are silencing my true voice, just like he did. Telling me that I should not feel the way I feel. They do not know all of the good memories. They may not realize that if they loved someone the way I love him; they may not have walked away either. In Jesus’s words, “…[he] knows not what [he] does.”
He failed me, just as I have failed him. He did not choose to be a victim as a child, and now that he is a man, he is only trying to survive. I am not excusing or advocating him getting physical. I am saying that we need to figure out what’s wrong with how we raise our boys. No one protected or defended my ex as a child. No one taught him what a real man acts like. The criminal justice system he grew up in did nothing but punish him. It did not rehabilitate him. The healthcare system he relied on did not treat or counsel him on his issues or his addiction. There are many boy victims out there that become abusers as men (not to say that there are not female abusers as well). When someone rapes us of our power as children; we try to get it back as adults. Some of us never learn how to do this without victimizing others.
People are broken but beautiful. They have good and bad inside them. It is all about which side they nourish to grow stronger. I have accepted what has happened, because it has led me to this moment. I am truly happy. There is no bitterness or hate left inside me, only love. Of course I still get afraid because of my experiences. But I know who I am now, so I know I won’t stand for being abused. No woman or man should.
You may love the person who abuses you, and I believe that they probably love you too (even though it may not be perfect love). They just aren’t showing it, because no one ever showed it to them. They are ill and need help. You cannot help them. You can only love them from a distance. Because in order to love them and be there for them, you have to love and take care of yourself. Just know that there are several of us out there; people who love people that are broken and abusive.
I do not tell you this story to make you uncomfortable or bore you with my troubles. I tell you because I know there is a lot of domestic violence going on out there, and I know there has to be at least one person that understands what I am talking about. Whether you are a victim of abuse, an abuser or both, we are all responsible for the abuse is that so common in our society. How can we fix it? How can we heal the wounds of our past trauma? We can start by sharing our stories. If I can inspire one person to speak up and ask for help, then being vulnerable was completely worth it.