Walking into my therapists office for the first time was terrifying. I was timid, broken, scared, unaware of the depth of pain I would have to uncover. But my purpose was clear. When asked why I was there, what was I hoping to achieve…the answer came to me in an instant. “I refuse to become a bitter old woman. I want to do whatever work is required to sort through all of the heartache, all of the disappointment, all of the hell that has been my life for the last 15 years, so that, while this will always be part of my story and who I am, it will not define me and it wont steal my joy for my future. I do not want to hold on to this in such a way that I destroy the relationships in my life or create bitterness in my soul.” My therapist smiled at me “We can do that, lets start with taking this to Lord.”
And so began my long journey of healing. Nothing was too big or too small to tackle in that office. It took several weeks before I could even admit or acknowledge that I had been severely abused. It took much longer for me to believe that I did not deserve that abuse. If tears were a currency, I would have been set for life! The hardest parts to sort through took about 1.5 years to even get to. The sexual abuse of my teens and in my marriage was a tough dragon to slay. I grieved for the younger me who didn’t know that she was not to blame and should have spoken up for herself. I grieved for the young wife who thought that what was happening must be “normal” and that things will get better if she just changed enough to please him. I grieved for the physical pain I endured and how that still affects my body today, I grieved for the lost innocence and the fear that held me bondage for so many years.
But perhaps the hardest part of the journey was sorting through the spiritual abuse. To have scripture that I loved, twisted to condemn me into submission to ungodly acts, for God’s word to be used as a weapon against me, that broke me. It created a deep level of uncertainty of my worth. I could almost accept, that the man I loved and pledged my life to, despised me and enjoyed hurting me, I figured I had provoked him and that I was a disappointment, that wasn’t a stretch for me at all. But to think that God thought so little of me, that his love was meant for everyone BUT me, that he was not pleased with who I was, that broke my heart. I tried so hard to please him, to not react to the screaming and name calling, I tried to be the quiet submissive humble wife that I was told he wanted me to be. I tried praying over my husband and marriage without ceasing for years, I read every book I could get my hands on, on how to be a better wife, how to be a godly wife. Eventually I came to the conclusion that this is my cross. That God wants this suffering for me and this is what will make me worthy of his love. To endure the hell I was in was how I would prove my righteousness.
I was so wrong. It took a very long time to get there in my healing journey, to understand that my worth and value are unchangeable, to be honest I still struggle with it to this day. To understand that what was happening to me, was not God’s desire or design. That He wasn’t hiding his face from me in disgust, but rather he was there in the room with me, holding me and crying WITH me. He felt my pain, He hated the sin that was ravaging my home.
I have often talked to my kids about forgiveness. How I have forgiven their father and how I have to keep forgiving him when memories surface, or new evidence of his abuse/lies come to the surface. How it is crucial for my heart and my peace to do so, even when there has been no repentance. But sometimes I wonder if I have succeeded in not harboring bitterness in my soul.
This week, I got an answer to that question. The news of my ex husbands hospitalization due to brain damage came, and with it, a flood of emotions. His drinking had finally caught up to him and now he will live out the remainder of his life with alcohol induced dementia (Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome which affects 1-2% of the population), in a nursing home where he, at 42, will need full time care. The tears that came with this news broke open a new area of grief. I had long expected to get news of his death or imprisonment due to his reckless lifestyle, but this? This seemed like the most humbling of events for someone who prided himself on his intellect, his looks, his charm. I have been crying for days. Such a mix of sadness, anger and relief.
Sadness that he could not pull himself out of his addiction or fight for a better life. Sadness for the parents who love him and are hurting to see him like this, sadness that he pushed everyone away. Anger that he chose to destroy himself and not get help so that he could be a good father or husband. Anger that he never could care about anyone but himself and has left a mess of things for his family to sort through and deal with, anger that he drank away his income instead of supporting his kids. Anger that some people still do not see or understand the mental illness that has had a hold of him far longer than the alcohol has. And finally relief. Relief because the harassment, the threats, and the fear can finally be laid to rest. My body is dealing with a slew of triggers as I am thrown back into the world of explaining our story to people who only knew him as “such a sweet, charming and jovial man” and having to navigate helping my kids through yet another traumatic event. But also, my body is resting. My sleep has been deeper and easier in the last few days, perhaps because I am feeling safe for the first time in 19 years.
But as I wrestle through this complicated grief, I have found comfort in one thing. I can say with certainty, that I have no bitterness in my soul. My heart is aching for the man I loved. While I can’t forget the hell he put me through and all the ways he tried to break me, I have forgiven him. Truly. I would not be this sad and this tearful over someone I harbored hatred towards. I find joy in the knowledge that the hard work I have put into growing and healing, has paid off. Joy in that I have leaned into the Lord with all of my heart, my soul,my mind and my strength and He has rewarded me with a wisdom, compassion, empathy, courage, discretion and love.
So even though this moment is hard on so many levels, I know I can do hard things.
We do not know God’s plans, but we do know his heart. So I am praying for my ex husbands heart to be softened, for the gospel truth to seep through the fog in his brain, and for his soul to be restored to the Lord. That maybe one day in heaven we can embrace as brother and sister in Christ, not burdened by shame, spite, or memories of pain. That is my hearts desire. Maybe this is God’s act of justice and mercy rolled into one. Maybe the two go hand in hand in ways that we don’t understand. And I am grateful for a God that is greater than my understanding.