1-2-13 Guest Post by Cantata

Hello, Hope Wears Heels readers, I am a fellow blog follower and friend of Hope and Endellion. I comment occasionally as Cantata, so that is what you can call me here. My story is eerily similar to both of theirs, my ex Bertie read the abuser handbook too. Here is a shortened version of my story, emphasizing the spiritual abuse that was a major contributing factor in the overall abuse dynamic.

“You need to work on being a more submissive wife. Focus on yourself, don’t worry about his sins.”

It is a nice sentiment, really. In a good marriage, I can see this working really well. You work on your own issues, he works on his, you mutually respect each other and work hard to fix whatever issues you are having.

I did not have a good marriage. I didn’t even have an OK marriage. I had a sad, broken, abusive marriage, and it was made a zillion times worse by statements like the above quote. That lovely gem came from the pastors of my church. I was spiritually abused on top of the emotional and sexual abuse I was already enduring on a daily basis. To help you understand what I mean by spiritual abuse, I have to take you back to the beginning.

I grew up in a loving, Christian home with two wonderful parents, one older brother, two younger sisters, and three younger brothers. I was homeschooled, excelled in school, went to church twice a week, loved God, and became a christian at age 8. Sounds beautiful, idyllic, and almost too good to be true, doesn’t it?

That’s because it was.

Every family has their little quirks, their secrets, their skeletons in the closet. Mine has them too, they just hid them very well.  Anyone on the outside looking in thought we had such an amazing family. My older brother is a genius, made a 1520 out of 1600 on the SAT, was a national merit scholar. He dropped out of college, finally graduated over a year late. I was the talented one, the rising opera singer, destined for great things. My younger siblings are all smart, and talented in one way or another. My parents are the picture of a loving couple, they adore each other.

None of that matters when you don’t know that your family loves you. We were always well taken care of, bought gifts and given cake at Christmas and birthdays, involved in different events and social groups. It isn’t that they didn’t love us; they just never mentioned it. I honestly can’t even remember a single time while growing up that they randomly said they loved me.

The only time they consistently told us they loved us, brings me to a new chapter of this story. Spankings. Good old corporal punishment. My parents were staunch believers in the “withhold not correction” form of discipline, and spankings were doled out frequently, starting right around 1 year old. Maybe earlier for some of us, I’m pretty sure I was a “bad” kid.”

They did everything the “right” way according to their books. Told us what we did wrong, explained what the bible told us was right, told us they loved us and wanted us to learn, so they had to spank us. It made so much sense at the time. I had no idea that was the beginning of a lifetime of spiritual abuse.

From the time I understood anything at all, I understood that God wanted us to obey our parents. That took precedent over every other commandment because I was a child, and that commandment specifically spoke to children. Not that the other commandments didn’t apply, but they felt less valid when obedience was the commandment than was brought up constantly.

One of the first memory verses I ever learned was Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Obedience to your parents was the end-all, be-all, only right answer. Questioning what your parents believed was borderline sacreligious.  So, between not feeling free to question anything about my parent’s beliefs, not feeling like they loved me because they never said they did, and of course the very frequent spankings, I was pretty much set up to be a part of a patriarchal marriage where I was told what to do and what to believe, be ok with not feeling loved, and to expect pain to be a part of any relationship.

In other words, I was easy and obvious prey to any controlling, abusive man
who desired me.

I met that controlling, abusive man during my Senior year of high school, in a homeschool co-op type English class. I will call him Bertie.  Bertie and I spent long afternoons chatting under the tree before English class. His brother took the class before ours, and I had piano lessons a while before class, so there was always time to kill.

My Mom liked to drop me off early so she could go do some shopping. I liked Bertie instantly, because he was kinda cute, but mostly just because he liked me. Hello codependency, nice to meet you!

Anyway, when the end of the year came around, I invited Bertie to come to my choir performance at the end of the year. He agreed to come, and I gave him my phone number under the pretense of needing to give him directions. This began a long series of late night conversations.

I’ll skip the long, sordid details, but basically we fell for each other hard and quickly. Things became a lot more physical than they should have, a lot quicker. We were officially “courting” (not dating, my parents wouldn’t allow unchaperoned dates) in late May, had our first kiss in June and said I love you that same week, and by July we had hit second base. For someone who had said she would wait to kiss til her wedding day, this was a big deal.

I believed everything my church had taught me about purity, but I wasn’t thinking with my head. Bertie was very good at convincing me to do what he wanted, and somehow I ended up initiating a lot of it too. I think right around that same time, we started having phone sex. I’m still not sure how I got away with that while sharing a room with my sisters.

In August, I started school. Things went from bad to worse quickly, as Bertie got more and more controlling, insisting that I talk to him all the time on my breaks from college classes.

Fast forward, we got married the next August. There were red flags all over the place, but I didn’t see them. I was 19 on the day we got married, it was my birthday. I had always grown up thinking the only Godly way to date was to only court one man, and he was the one to marry. That would keep me pure, and chaste. I would never have to worry about ungodly lust and STDs and whatever else Christian girls shouldn’t have to worry about. I would never burn with passion.

On our wedding night, we had sex 5 times. Or, I should say, Bertie got off inside me 5 times. It hardly counts as sex if I’m not getting any enjoyment, he doesn’t care if I’m enjoying it, and I end up in a lot of pain. That was my normal. I had no reason to think anything was wrong with this scenario.

Fast forward several more months. Things were still rough. We worked and went to school on opposite schedules, and rarely saw each other. In
some ways, this was a blessing, since we often fought when we did see each other. After 3 years of marriage, I finally decided I’d had enough, stated that Bertie had emotionally abandoned me, and left him.

My parents begged and pleaded for me to go back. They brought me to the pastor. He told me it was all my fault for not going to them sooner about our issues. I should have known I could go to them any time. In the years and months prior, I had stopped going to church, because Bertie never wanted to. He had slowly been poisoning me against the church and against my family. I couldn’t trust them, he had me convinced of that. The funniest part of that is that he was right, but I wouldn’t know it for years to come.

I ended up just ignoring everything the church said to me. I had one friend who used to go to that church who supported me, and was my friend even when she didn’t agree with my actions. Everyone else kept harping on me to come back, I was sinning, didn’t I know God hated divorce, etc. It was exhausting. I turned away from God completely, I didn’t even want to think about Him during that time. God had put me in this marriage, and it was awful, why would I trust Him? Besides, my family and friends were telling me God wanted me back with someone who I was afraid of. I honestly thought he would hurt me. I didn’t realize yet how badly he already had.

After 3 months away, during which time I filed for divorce, but couldn’t afford to get him served, and during which time I slept with two other men, my dear friend convinced me to go back. She regrets that so much now, knowing what I endured after I went back. I went back, but not before my former church had excommunicated me. Yes really. No, I’m not Catholic. Yes, churches still do that, apparently.

I had to set foot in that church, talk to the pastors who condemned me, admit that I had “committed adultery” by sleeping with another man while married (separated didn’t matter to them), and basically beg my abusive husband to take me back anyway.

I came back, and things got so much worse. Bertie literally mentioned the adultery multiple times a day for weeks, and every day for months after that. I finally got so fed up with it, that I came up with a brilliant solution. I’ll just get pregnant, then he will KNOW I’m faithful, and stop bugging me about it. Um, yeah, that brilliant plan backfired big time. I got pregnant, and shortly thereafter had to go on bedrest due to complications. That was when the rapes really ramped up.

I haven’t mentioned the rapes yet, but they occurred frequently. Any time Bertie wanted sex, but I wasn’t in the mood, he found a way to guilt me into it. It wasn’t ever a threat, I just knew that if I didn’t, he would make me miserable for days. When I was on bed rest, that didn’t matter to Bertie’s sex drive either. My bed rest was strict, including pelvic rest, aka no sex. Bertie insisted it would be fine, I said no, he got mad. I gave in. I cried afterward. I can’t think too much about it even now. He put our baby in danger just to get his kicks.

Fast forward again. We had the baby, our sweet son, lots of major ups and downs along the way. The downs went really down when Bertie got his dream job, then lost it due to injury. He didn’t look for another job, got very depressed, and stayed home all the time. During this time, we went to counseling a few times with the pastors. The pastors always said the same thing. You need to be more submissive. You aren’t trusting God. Let Bertie work on his own problems. So I would. And it would help; sometimes for a day, sometimes for a week. Never for longer.

The last time I asked for help, I went behind Bertie’s back. I have never been so afraid that he would turn to physical violence. He went to the counseling, it got better for a day or two, then right back. I knew at that point that I could never seek help from the pastors again.

I couldn’t trust them. I couldn’t trust God, since these people claimed to speak for Him.

I had a major revelation around this time about parenting. I realized that I didn’t think spanking was working, and realized I didn’t think it was commanded by God. Huge revelations. Massive. Life changing, especially since my church was big into “spanking is the only way to raise good Christian kids”. I mentioned it to Bertie, and he completely flipped out.

I found some friends who believed the same things about spanking, and they invited me to a message board. On that board, I found out about abuse in marriage, and about spiritual abuse. I tentatively posted a few things about my marriage, and my church, and things came into very sharp focus. It felt like a ton of bricks landed on my chest.

My husband had been abusing me for years, and my church was enabling it. I was blindsided. I didn’t know what to think. I just knew I had to get out. With a lot of help from my friends, I did just that. I had to deal with more spiritual abuse from the church on the way out; I was told that I wasn’t acting like a Christian, and was excommunicated from membership for abandoning my marriage.

My own parents still attend that church, and agree with their teachings. I lost so many friends, I lost any chance of a meaningful relationship with my youngest sister after she told me the rapes were my fault because I obviously wasn’t giving it up enough. Yes, those were her exact words. I lost my dream of a husband, a marriage, an unbroken family.

What I gained instead can’t be expressed in mere words. I gained freedom. I gained life. I gained happiness. I gained a relationship with the true God, not the vindictive, cruel, abusive one I grew up knowing.

There is life after spiritual abuse. To be honest, I think the spiritual abuse is the one that has been, and will continue to be the hardest to get over. I am re-learning who God is on a daily basis.

There is life after an abusive marriage. The journey sucks, but the freedom of knowing I am strong enough to walk this road is worth more than I can ever say.

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10 Comments

  1. Mara

    Thank you, Cantata, for an important post.

    • I often think that spiritual abuse is either forgotten about or not acknowledged. It isn’t just pastors, deacons, and elders who wield this power. Husbands also do a great job it. Bubba “found” Jesus right after I left. I don’t for a minute believe it because he has shown no fruit of being truly saved. I believe it to be another manipulative act, first to try to lure me in, and now to keep my FOO on his side. But it is really not for me to judge, God will take care of that.

      I just wish more people understood this aspect of abuse. When Bubba “found” Jesus, my sister actually told me he couldn’t spiritually abuse me because only pastors can do that. HA! If someone is wielding God as a weapon against you, it is spiritual abuse.

  2. Cantata

    Thanks Mara and Hope. Spiritual abuse is definitely a common thread in so many abusive marriages.

    I forgot to mention it in my post, but Bertie now claims no religion or belief in God, and has stopped going to church. After years of guilting me about not being a good, submissive wife, he abandoned God entirely when it stopped being a convenient control tactic.

    • He didn’t abandon God, he abandoned using God as a means of control because you’d broken free. He no longer needs to keep up the pretense.

      • Cantata

        I completely agree. Over the years of our marriage, I questioned Bertie’s salvation often, simply because there was no fruit, no desire to learn more about God. He used God the same way he used me, and discarded Him when it was no longer useful to pretend.

  3. I’m so sorry you had to go through all that abuse and pain at the hands and advice of those who are supposed to love, cherish, and protect you. Bravo to you for finally being brave enough to get out! I experienced a similar situation many many years ago.

    • Cantata

      Thank you Sylvia 🙂 I’m sorry you had to experience something similar. It really does throw your entire worldview off kilter and make you question everything you have ever believed to be true.

  4. Almost myself again

    I keep on thinking, if only pastors, and the church in general, could do a better job before and during divorce,.. women would not have to try to refind their relationship with Christ. I wish there was some way for leadership to get past dogma, and see abusive marriages in the light of what they are. Sinful!

    • I wish they would too. Sadly, so many in church leadership simply don’t understand abuse. So many woman are told what I was told: submit more. It is blamed on the wife for not being a Godly enough wife. It is seen as the wife’s sin; rarely the husband’s sin. The victim is blamed and she can’t find help from the people who should be helping her. It is just mixed up.

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