By a Survivor: Misti Matos
Often when domestic abuse is mentioned, we conjure up a mental picture of physical violence - bruises, cuts, black eyes, broken bones. But abuse comes in many different forms. Emotional, verbal, sexual, financial are all forms of abuse.
The dangers in these types of abuse is that they don’t leave outward marks so they can be conveniently ignored or, in most cases, go completely unnoticed.
Timid. Shy. Quiet. Dependent. Scared. Sad. Jumpy. Soft-spoken.
As a society, we’ve been bombarded with a stereotypical image of what an abused woman looks and acts and sounds like from books, movies, billboards, social media.
Forthright. Outgoing. Loud. Independent. Cheerful. Positive. Brave.
Those words don’t usually come to mind when we think “battered woman”. I know this from personal experience because the second set of adjectives fits me a little more than the first. But at the end of one of the most difficult seasons of my life, I still had to come to terms with the fact that I was a victim of abuse.
A battered woman. A statistic when I had never thought of myself as any of those things. Even as I found myself shoved against the wall, slammed against a door, thrown to the floor, my hair being pulled, kicked off the sofa. Even as I listened to the awful names being screamed at me - bitch, liar, slut, ugly, old, ungodly, good for nothing - I couldn’t face the reality of the situation I found myself in. And why couldn’t I? Why didn’t I see what was happening to me? Because I was the second set of adjectives NOT the first. I jumped back up when I hit the floor. I would bounce back from the wall or door and, most times went full force back at the man who had sworn to love, honor, and protect me.
There was no way that I was going to be mistaken for some weak, timid woman who just took whatever was being dished out! But when the realization of what I was allowing myself to put up with began to dawn on me, I still didn’t leave him.
After all, I had been divorced once already and I wasn’t about to put my two youngest children through what my older two had to endure when parents split up. Besides, I had taken vows! I was a Christian woman with Christian values brought up in a Christian home all my life!
My parents were still married and I didn’t want to disappoint them, myself, or anyone else with another failed marriage. I was a stay at home mom. I was involved in the music ministry at my church and I didn’t want to set a bad example. I had already surprised everyone after revealing I was pregnant before the divorce with my first husband was even finalized. I didn’t want the stigma of a twice-divorced, single mother of four with two baby daddies! And I definitely didn’t want the label “victim of abuse” added to all the other labels I’d been told or heard or even thought about myself. Labels like stubborn, hard-headed, prideful. So I stayed with my husband and continued to live with my children in an unhealthy and unsafe environment.
I can recall the time, the circumstances, the very hour when I knew that I would never again subject myself or my children again to what had become the normal of our lives. To this day I know with 100% certainty that I left him a day, an hour, a moment too late. After everything that I had put up with personally, trying to convince myself that it was only me that was suffering and that if I could just laugh a little louder, smile a little brighter, try a little harder, that my children wouldn’t be affected ended with my oldest daughter paying for my mistake of staying too long.
What kind of man gets mad enough to shove a child against the wall during dinner? Who in their right mind stays with their husband after witnessing her daughter bounce off that dining room wall, fall to the floor, and lay there crying only to pick herself up insisting, “It’s ok, mom. I’m ok. I’m not that hurt” while her little sister and brother are watching silently from the dinner table?
I knew at that moment that I was done but it was a moment too late for my daughter. It was a moment of such clarity, such impact, such importance that I’ll carry it with me forever. Some moments in life define us, mold us, shape us and even carry us into the next season of our lives. Seeing my child on the floor, struggling to get herself up, was such a moment for me. It gave me the courage, strength, and the push I needed to take a stand and get my children and myself out of that house, away from the toxicity we’d been living in, and step into an unknown and uncertain future but one free from abuse. I’ve never regretted leaving. My regret is that I didn’t leave soon enough.
It’s been several years since I made the decision to leave my husband. The divorce has been final for a long time now.
Sad. Lonely. Depressed. Broke. Angry. Ashamed.
Those adjectives describe just some of the feelings I’ve had to live through since facing the truth that I had been a victim of abuse. But God has been there through every emotion, every setback, every tear, every frustration and He is faithful! I received counseling from SARC (The Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center) a wonderful organization that offers help and resources to victims, potential victims, and survivors of abuse and sexual violence.
When someone close to me first suggested I receive counseling, I almost laughed. My divorce had been final for years and my kids and I were thriving. But then my friend pointed out some behaviors that I had never noticed before. The way I spoke about my ex-husband, how I had to feel in control of every situation big or small (still working on that!), even my body language would change when his name was mentioned.
After doing some research about abuse counseling and came across SARC, I felt like it couldn’t hurt to talk to a professional. If anything, I figured that it would help me help other women who found themselves in a similar situation.
I still remember getting ready for my first session. I wanted to make sure I looked good- hair and make-up on point, outfit casual but fashionable, heels on to make me look taller than my normal five-foot self. I still didn’t want to portray myself as that typical stereotype that was branded into my mind of what a victim of domestic abuse looked like.
Looking back now, I remember how humbled I felt just walking from my car to the front door of the building which happened to be on Main Street. My first appointment with my counselor left me feeling vulnerable, exposed, a little sad, and angry-not the adjectives I thought I’d be using to describe myself getting dressed just that morning.
I envisioned sitting down with the counselor, answering her questions, and telling her my personal story of triumph over tragedy with humbleness, charm, clarity, and my witty sense of humor all the while keeping it clear that God was using me to help others with my testimony. I expected her to ask me why I had even set up this appointment because not only was I healed from my past experiences, but how would I feel about quitting my day job and working full time for SARC as a counselor for other victims of abuse since I was such a glowing example of how to overcome challenges?
What I didn’t expect was to be told to come back next week and talk some more about why I could barely say the word “victim” without choking or rolling my eyes. And I certainly didn’t expect to be set up with a psychologist and find myself taking a test for PTSD. WHAT?!
Cool. Confident. Mature. Wise.
Those were the adjectives that I had dressed so carefully for that morning that these professionals were supposed to write down when describing me in their little notebooks. Not “victim”, “in denial”, “controlling”! Obviously I didn’t see the actual notes being taken, but I could imagine that’s what was being written.
In spite of my feelings, I returned the next week, and the week after and continued my counseling to better myself, to keep moving forward in a positive way, to make sure I wasn’t holding on to anything that would hold me back and keep me in a place of unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, shame, and pain. I’ve learned the hard way that allowing those negative feelings to take root and to grow causes more damage in the long run and can be crippling if not completely debilitating to not only myself but those around me.
God has allowed me to come to the realization that I love myself and my children more than I hate my ex and what he put us through. I simply refuse to be a bitter and unforgiving woman and mother because my precious children deserve more than that from me.
It hasn’t been easy. I struggle even now. I’ve learned that forgiveness can be a process. Some people I can forgive and move on but there are times that I end a phone conversation, or see a text from my former husband that stirs up feelings that I don’t want any part of. So that’s when I say out loud,
“I forgive you and I will keep on forgiving you!”
He doesn’t hear me or know but the Lord does and He continues doing the work in me that needs to be done. Philippians 1:6 says that
“being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.
I believe that with all of my heart. I am a beautiful work in progress.
If you or someone you know has or is being abused in any way, please know that you are not alone. Don’t let the negative, stereotypical labels or adjectives that I've described in this post be what you see reflected when you look in the mirror.
It’s ok, to be honest with yourself and those close to you and say that you’re a victim of abuse. Just don’t let that adjective define the rest of your life. It’s up to you whether you choose to let your situation be the story of your life or just a chapter or two. Ask for help. Be the second set of adjectives and then help others to be the same!
Remember that you are the beautiful creation of a loving Creator who desires only the best for you and wants to bless you every day of your life. I know that whoever is reading this has the courage and strength to be what God has called you to be. My test wouldn’t have become a testimony, my mess wouldn’t have become a message, the ashes wouldn’t have been turned in for beauty but for Jesus.
Hurtful. Liar. Untrustworthy. Faithless. Abuser.
That set of adjectives describes some of the people who have come into my life and tried to break me and keep me from fulfilling God’s calling and destiny for my life. But I met someone else a very long time ago that I want you to know.
Loving. Gracious. Forgiving. Healer. Faithful. Chain breaker. Savior. His name is JESUS and He’s the second set of adjectives!
Thank you so much for reading my story! It is not always easy to talk about these subjects. If you are currently going through domestic abuse or know someone who is, please reach out to someone. For help or information go to http://www.thehotline.org or call the national domestic abuse hotline directly at - 1-800-799-7233
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I want to thank my cousin and friend, Misti, for writing her story. We all have a story to share..to encourage others. Tell your story!
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