This month, I've been talking about boundaries; What they are, what they mean for us, how to set them, what to do when they're crossed, what I feel the most important boundaries are. Because we're talking about boundaries, I feel it's an important time to talk about constant, purposeful boundary-breaking otherwise known as, abuse.
Here to discuss the controversial topic of divorce and the shame felt from it from within the Christian community is Alice Mills. Alice is a retired English Professor, mother of six (yes, six!), ex-wife to a narcissist and survivor of abuse who now dedicates her life to encouraging, teaching and inspiring others in her writing. If I had to describe this post it would be, "The Separation of Narcissism and Church". There is a stigma, I know you know it, for divorce' from within the church community. For women in abusive relationships the shaming can be utterly destructive.
If you're in an abusive relationship, Alice has plenty more resources available on her website, http://poemachronicles.com, for you to browse through. Feel free to reach out to her- she's been through a lot!
I am notorious for encouraging women in tough marriages to stick by their spouses and believe for healing (because God is good and faithful to us) however- that all goes out the window when it comes to abuse. There is a line, that only you will know, where your relationship with your loved one has crossed over from, "They're an addict" to, "They're abusing me". Not all relationships affected by addiction do cross that line but in my experience, most women I have talked to have experienced abuse in one way or another.
Types of abuse I have seen in relationships where someone has an addiction:
An argument got physical, "just once".
They manipulate you and use gas-lighting techniques to trick you into doing what they want.
They control all the finances.
They isolate you from friends and family by telling you that you are not allowed to speak to anyone about their addiction.
You find yourself walking on eggshells because you don't want to upset them and "send them over the edge".
Could you relate to any of those? All of them? There is addiction, there is addict behaviour and there is abuse and sometimes, those labels overlap. But today, we're talking about another label: Narcissism. Being in a relationship with a narcissist is again, not guaranteed to be abusive but more than likely, you have experienced some abuse. Or, you have a story like Alice's and you have suffered greatly at the hands of someone else. Since we're talking about boundaries, I think it's important to let you know that sometimes, the boundary is you have to leave.
It's my great honour to welcome Alice Mills to Grey Ministries as she shares her story with you.
Praying for you, always!
Some might think that title is scandalous. I know that my own fear of divorce kept me from escaping a narcissistic abuser for fourteen years. Now, seventeen years out from that disaster, my regrets center around not leaving far earlier. I lived in a lot of denial for years. One has to cultivate denial in order to survive, much less stay, in a marriage that was as abusive as mine. And just how abusive it was, did not fully dawn on me until I disclosed, ten years later, details of the torment to my counselor. The look of horror and grief on her face showed me just how far from normal my first marriage had strayed.
But this story is about how the Lord intervened and rescued me and my four daughters from a man who dedicated himself daily to our destruction. I had spent a year really committed to praying for my husband. I literally prayed for him day and night. I knew there was something terribly wrong with him, but at that time, I really did not understand what a narcissist was. I had recently read the book, Changes that Heal, by Henry Cloud. Most people know him by his book, Boundaries. In it, he spoke about how we cannot hold ourselves responsible for another’s happiness. I realized that both my ex and I held me solely responsible for his happiness. And of course, I was doomed to fail.
However, the Lord really strengthened me through that time of prayer. All the spiritual books I read were mentors. The more I was freed on the inside from my fear of John and the more I depended on the Lord for my emotional needs, the stronger I became. John could see the difference, and the change only made his behavior worse. I fully believe he was resisting the conviction of the Holy Spirit. When I caught him burning his Bible in the trash bin, I knew that he was quickly reaching a point of no return. [Leah here-> Wow! This part gave me chills.]
I had fled a couple of times before with my daughters. Each time he would go through an elaborate courtship to get me back. Things would be barely tolerable for a month or two and then the moods and the abuse would creep back in. It was late March of 2000 and I came home from work to see that my ex had thrown away all of my seedlings I was nurturing until I could plant them after the last frost. Every single one was gone. At that moment, the Lord said as clearly as I have ever heard Him in my spirit, “Everything you plant, he will uproot.” A bit shocked, I ran upstairs to my little prayer closet. I could feel physically the Lord releasing me from my fear.
The shame issue remained. “Lord,” I said, “If I divorce him, then I will have failed. I will be divorced.” “John 8:11,” the Lord said to me. I didn’t know what verse that was, so I opened my Bible. It read, “And neither do I condemn you.” That verse is the end of the story woman who was going to be stoned for adultery. Honestly, I have never been embarrassed since about being divorced. There are some who judge me, but the Lord freed me from any sense of shame about it. That alone is a miracle because, for a long time, I feared divorce more than I feared God or my own destruction. One word from the Lord toppled what was really an idol.
[Leah here again-> I am divorced after being in a traumatic marriage, I can understand this shame in every way! I am so blessed to hear this testimony of grace. I'm sure you are, too! If you're struggling and you're a Christian woman in an abusive marriage, God is not judging you, disappointed or angry. He is upset that your spouse hasn't loved you and honoured you as He does.]
Then I worried about what would happen to John. Even though I did not understand the nature of mental illness at the time, I knew that he was somehow very sick in his mind and spirit. And soul ties are strong after fourteen years of marriage. Immediately on the screen of my mind, the words, “2 Titus 3:5” appeared. I turned to that verse and all I could see were the words, “Let these men go.” I understood at that moment as well, that the Lord wanted me to have nothing to do with John or his extremely wealthy father with whom he was enmeshed. At that moment, I resolved to leave. I left within the week. The difference this time was I did not flee in fear. I left under the direction and blessing of the Holy Spirit. And this time John did not come after me.
At the time, I worked at a small Baptist university. They kindly gifted me with a check for $200. I took out a credit card, and together, my four daughters and I put together a modest house that for the first time in fourteen years, felt like a home. Our first night in our little, rented home in Kentucky, we sat around the table and my oldest and I looked at each other. We knew what the other was thinking. We didn’t have to lie anymore to survive. We didn’t have to live in fear. Suddenly possibilities opened up. The whole world seemed new. And this time, my father, who had spent time researching domestic violence, came out. He stayed until he knew I would not go back. That blessing alone gave me the strength to face the rest of my family. [Leah again-> (sorry, love this story!) God bless good, earthly Fathers! They are a picture of heaven.]
I lived as a single mom for nearly five years before I remarried. Of course, difficulties emerged. However, the Lord was so faithful to meet my needs. I found that He is close to the widow (or the divorce’). I didn’t mourn the marriage at all. My mourning came during the marriage, as my hopes for love and bonding within that relationship died. That first night, though, the Lord turned my attention to the book of Joel. “I will repay you,” He said to me, “I will repay you for the years the locust has eaten.” And praise God. He has done that and more.
Alice Mills earned her MFA in Creative Writing. An English Professor for twenty-five years as well as a leader or spiritual formation courses, Alice now dedicates her time to writing fiction and inspirational non-fiction. Alice is the mother of six and wife of one great husband. Because of her experience as a survivor of narcissistic abuse, Alice trained in prayer ministry and inner healing. She now uses her training and her story to encourage others to break free from unhealthy patterns and develop an authentic relationship with God.
Find more resources from Alice on emotional healing, faith and abuse on her website: http://poemachronicles.com