Standing at my kitchen sink, up to my elbows in hot soapy water and washing three of the only four plates we owned, I remember my lower back hurt from standing there twice a day, wishing we could just afford two more plates so I'd only have to do this once a day, trying to be quiet so I didn't wake the baby with the dishes clanking against each other in the single sink as I scrubbed and rinsed, and drained, and let a little water out, and started over with the next piece... I don't hate doing dishes, I LOATHE doing dishes. I'll load and unload the dishwasher all day if that's what I need to do, but standing at the sink (especially a single sink!), the front of my clothes getting soaked, my hands getting pruny (when you can't afford PLATES, rubber gloves are a luxury beyond reach), my back getting sore, and it takes so long because the off-brand cheap dish soap doesn't really work well, and his mother managed just fine with rags and elbow grease, and he was SO particular about cleanliness and order and I was SUCH a disappointment in every way already, and we weren't even married yet...
And from behind, hands reached to grab my breasts, not painfully, but the feel of hot breath on the back of my neck and the hands and the surprise and the sensation of being trapped, and all-of-a-sudden-I'm-12-years-old-and-trapped with Mister S. again. NO!!! NONONONONO!!! NO MORE!
I honestly don't even know WHAT the hell happened in my kitchen. But one minute I was washing the dishes, and the next, the baby is screaming in her crib and the man I'm about to marry is on his ass five feet away with his hands over his head and this look of SHOCK on his face and the sound of his panicked voice repeating "Okay! Okayokayokay! Sorry! Okay!" over and over and I was dripping soapy water everywhere and shaking and sweating and I had a sharp knife in my hand. I was clearly about to use it. On the man I was about to marry, who had NO IDEA what was going on. Neither did I.
It was November 1991, I was 21 years old, I'd just had my first flashback to the two years of molestation at the hands of Mister S. I think I asked him to go settle the baby back down, and I just went back to washing the dishes and zoning out. We were already masters of compartmentalization and denial. It's still got this totally bizarre haze over it unless I allow myself to go back inside my skin in those moments in my head, but then all I see and respond to from there is the original assault. Also I think I literally scared the CRAP out of Mister Air Force, and he chose to ignore it rather than deal with the fact that he was scared of his helpless "little woman".
Over the next 6 weeks, bits and pieces of the original abuse came back to me. Certain smells or words or particular touch would just throw me into this fugue state where I would just mentally be elsewhere for what was in real-time, no more than a minute, but in my head was very extended periods of time. I often found myself standing up in the middle of whatever room it was, fists clenched, sweating and shaking and FURIOUS and TERRIFIED, and apparently SHOUTING.
I can't imagine what possessed him to marry me anyway, but by the time we were at his parents house in the week before the wedding, I had managed to get enough pieces together that I knew what had happened and what was happening now and at least get some kind of handle on what those triggers were until we could figure something else out to defuse the ticking bomb that had become my psyche. And so I told him everything I knew. And he married me anyway. I'll never understand why, because we turned out to be a TERRIBLE match. It's possible he was really more in love with my daughter than he was with me, and with the idea of being her daddy, because the appearance of her father on the scene shortly before our fifth wedding anniversary was the beginning of the end, and it certainly didn't take much effort to thoroughly smash what was already fragile with baggage when it was made, damaged by manipulation and control and lies, undermined with affairs and betrayal, and devastated by financial ruin and finally ended when I grew a spine.
We were in counselling already when we got the letter from her father. This one was our third. The first counselor was on the military base where we lived, and Guy hated him. When it became clear that he was expected to participate in helping to work things out (by, for instance, choosing to NOT approach me from behind or wake me in the middle of the night to initiate sex, which he did over and over and over once he realized I was in control enough to avoid gutting him like a fish!) then he refused to go. Called it all bullshit, because they were MY problems, MY dissociative fugue states, MY nightmares, his only problem was that he married a crazy woman; and it was another 18 months before we found someone else to see that we repeated the process with.
That third counselor was a pastor at our new church. Guy had gotten out of the Air Force, we'd moved to Port Hardy, BC to follow some friends, got saved and became Christians up there, enjoyed a brief honeymoon period until I got a really good government job that paid more than he earned, his ego couldn't handle it and we moved back to Victoria so he could work with his best friend. So we attended the Pentecostal church across the street from our new house, because the church in Port Hardy had been Pentecostal, and we figured it was all the same... oh how true that turned out to be, if only I'd known that our original pastor at that Port Hardy church was the exception to the rule of hellfire and brimstone and legalism and showy emptiness, I could have saved myself so much pain and confusion. And once we'd been there long enough to have "our seats" figured out, it was time to get back to the business of getting our marriage on track.
So it was a little disappointing when the pastor didn't want to dig any deeper than asking us to make lists of little things we could do for each other every day to express our love for each other. He didn't want to talk about the affair Guy had had with my best friend and how they'd lied to me and she'd tried to make me think I was insane because she wanted Guy to have me committed so she could step in to be wife to my husband and mother to my daughter. And that he still didn't speak up when she moved into our house. Or about how we got this letter from my daughter's father, basically BEGGING for the chance to do ANYTHING we asked him to so that he could just visit her. And Guy's response was that he refused to even talk about it. The daughter in question was six and a half years old, and old enough to understand that we were fighting about his refusal to even consider talking about what it might look like to have her father come for coffee.
So our wedding anniversary was coming up, and it was FIVE YEARS! A veritable MILESTONE. And we needed to CELEBRATE, budget bedamned! Just say the word! Whatever shall we do?! What do you want? He pestered me for three weeks, and I finally had to admit that the only thing I could think of that I was at all willing to do with him is pack his crap and get a divorce. And that was it. Two days later he moved out to his friend's apartment, and six weeks after that he'd moved to Alberta. And we were basically DONE. I think we saw him three times after that.
So imagine my surprise and my daughter's confusion when we showed up for church on Sunday (the one across the street from our house, and since Guy took the car until he moved away, it was the only one we could get to) and we were greeted VERY DIFFERENTLY at the front door. An elder from the church was waiting for my six year old and I, and we were scooted down a hall toward the back stairs to the balcony, and it was explained to me that UNTIL I CHOSE TO TAKE THE ADULTEROUS ABUSIVE ASSHOLE BACK, (sorry, "restore my marriage to its righteous state") that I was expected to sit in the balcony only, that I was BARRED from communion(!) and that MY DAUGHTER WAS NOT ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN SUNDAY SCHOOL.
Yeah, we left. We waited until the magical quiet time before the riot of the "shouldaboughtahonda" show started up with the tambourines and the shaking hallelujah fits, and I made sure that door SLAMMED on their "peaceful communion" time on our way out. Hypocritical idiots had the women's ministries dropping off casseroles to his apartment, but my baby was banned. FU-UCKAKAKAKA!
Yes, let's DO make the child even more of a victim of the decisions of the trusted adults in her life than she already was. Yes, by all means, PLEASE let's make it so that the martyr/sinner/adulterer wearing the hair shirt of unforgiven infidelity stays comfy and fed and supported because his TERRIBLY SCANDALOUS WIFE is too PROUD to accept his "repentance".
This is what launched me into the next three years of wandering away from the Lord, or at least away from church, managing to barely scrape myself together enough to keep a roof over our heads and keep her fed and clothed with ZERO help from Guy. He literally VANISHED except by phone, where he would talk to her every Tuesday evening for an hour and he would promise to send her $20 for Pound Puppies, because he'd missed Christmas, and week after week the money never came, and I watched my beautiful, secure, friendly, cheerful six year old turn into an angry, abandoned cynic. She started rolling her eyes in front of me, and he started accusing me of turning her against him...
We just struggled. We moved EIGHT times in three years. I got SO depressed. I felt SO alone, SO messed up, SO damaged and RUINED. I was still in my 20's! I worked my can off, but opportunities were limited. I'd never graduated from high school, but eventually I qualified for a student loan, so I went and got a Business Admin Diploma from CompuCollege and hoped that people would settle for that as an answer to the education question. Some did, most didn't.
Three years is a long time to take the bus in the rain in Victoria when you own a car but can't afford to put gas in it much less pay the insurance. And yet, in the rain, in the depression, in the endless out of control sleeping, God met me there. It wasn't happy, it wasn't "praising Him in the storm" but it was real, and it was a lifeline. It was morbid, beautiful poetry, it was dark paintings over and over and over each other on the same cardboard canvas until I ran out of paint, it was spending the night on the floor of my kitchen singing and rocking my seven year old daughter to sleep while I quietly wept because the side effects from the medications they gave me for depression made me paranoid (the kitchen had only one exit to monitor). If I managed to stay awake long enough, my alarm clock would tell me it was morning, so I'd wake her up, feed her breakfast, get her in the tub and dressed and take her to school before coming home to sleep all day until it was time to pick her up after school and take my dreaded medication. REPEAT FOR SIX MONTHS.
I finally got some real help to deal with the flashbacks and the PTSD, if you have it, there's nothing like it, and nothing treats it like a therapy called EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which sounds like mumbo-jumbo, but works. It really really works. Even on the new scars from the asshole who thought it was funny to watch me freak out when he triggered me for five more years.
And when you TELL, when you finally FINALLY are HEARD, you get to start taking back those pieces of your soul that were being consumed by that toxic waste that was left behind by abuse. I can't stress this enough:
TELLING THE RIGHT PEOPLE HELPS.
KEEP TELLING UNTIL YOU FIND THE RIGHT PEOPLE!
THE RIGHT PEOPLE WILL HELP YOU RECOVER AND HEAL. They are often professional therapists.
This type of abuse, this removal of your power, no matter who did what to whom for how long; it doesn't matter if it's a one-time event or stretches over years; it doesn't matter if you're still in a relationship with your abuser or not; YOU CANNOT HEAL ALONE IN THE DARK.
That anger that you feel is a righteous response to pain. That shame that you feel is the enemy trying to keep you quiet about the terrible things that were done to you that WERE NOT YOUR FAULT. Because if he can keep you tied up in the lie that you are somehow responsible for any of it, then it keeps you from receiving the healing and the grace that is rightfully yours.
This was not the end of the abuse I've suffered at the hands of others. But it was the end of me being a victim. You can't stop other people's choices, but you CAN choose how to deal with the consequences of their actions. You CAN learn to recognize what is true and what is right and what is yours and what is NOT. It gets easier. But get help. Find a net, build a net. Find a friend, a family member, a coworker, a pastor (they're not all idiots, I know some awesome ones!), a doctor, a therapist, a hotline, SOMEBODY and ask for help getting help.
Reach out to God. He's there in the middle of your mess. He met me in the middle of mine, and He continued to pursue me even when I'd turned my back on Him, because He is a Perfect Parent, He knows my rising and my lying down, even on the kitchen floor. He has all the hairs on my head counted, even all the cat hair on my pants. It doesn't have to be pretty, it doesn't have to be in church, it doesn't have to be wrapped up in stained-glass words, but it DOES have to be real. Surrender to God, it's the only way through. The "bad news" is that He will only settle for your EVERYTHING, but the "good news" is that your everything is ENOUGH.
The nightmares DO go away. It's that simple and that hard.