Becoming the Phoenix: Life and faith after an abusive marriage

By Andrea Feaster

Early in our marriage my husband and I had a terrible fight. He grabbed my hair; a glass top table got broken. Later, after things were calm and we apologized to one another, I told him I had called our church to ask for help. He was outraged, saying I had dishonored him. I hadn’t meant to harm him, so I called back and apologized, assuring a member of the pastoral staff that everything was fine. She comforted me, told me it was okay, that marriage is sometimes hard and I needn’t worry about having damaged my husband’s reputation. That was the end of the conversation.

During subsequent arguments over the next 11 years, my husband spat in my face, pushed me, told me I acted like a whore. I desperately wanted to provide an intact family for my children. I wanted to stay married, to keep my promise, to please my husband whom I loved. So each time I forgave him, admitted and apologized for my part in triggering his anger, and resolved to do better.

“I desperately wanted to provide an intact family for my children.”

Then one day my husband threw one of our sons across a room. When I told him not to hit the boy, he pushed me out into the hallway, slammed the door, and returned to “disciplining.” I panicked, kicking and shoving the door until it came off its hinges. He turned away from our son and came after me. Face against mine, he yelled at me to leave. He pulled back his arm, elbow at chin height, and made a fist to strike me. I looked at the floor.

He put his arm down, picked up his Bible, pressed it against my cheek and shoved. He told me I needed to read it more. Told me the man is the head of the family. That I had no family. As he yelled, he held his Bible with one hand and slapped his bare chest with the other until his skin blazed red. He put his face against mine and blew hard, spitting.

“Each time I forgave him, admitted and apologized for my part in triggering his anger, and resolved to do better.”

Taking off his wedding band as he stormed away, he spun and threw it at my face. He told me to get out of his house. I told him I would not leave my family. “Who is your family?!” he screamed. I finally choked out, “My children are my family.” My heart broke.

Throughout that day and night, I pretended everything was fine as I quietly contacted my parents to get us out. They never questioned me. The next day my sons and I boarded a tiny plane that took us away from him, away from our home, school, friends, pets, photographs. Family took us in. I was ashamed. I felt like a Judas.

 

When I met with an intake counselor at Families First a few weeks later, she handed me a checklist of behaviors and asked me to mark the ones I had done to my husband. Then she gave me a second copy of the list and asked me to mark the ones he had done to me. (It was not lost on me that a checklist existed of the many behaviors that happened in our household that I thought were private, that people didn’t know about, that I had never told anyone.) The counselor put the two lists side by side, looked me in the eyes, and said slowly as she tapped his list, “There is nothing you could have done that would justify someone treating you this way.”

"Journey" was the best way I could describe the file of communications and legal documents I gathered as we left my now ex-husband.

“Journey” was the best way I could describe the file of communications and legal documents I gathered as we left my now ex-husband.

I have a file of the communications and court documents pertaining to our departure labeled “April 2012 Journey.” That journey continues for me and for my children, even though we are in a good place now.

“It is not an easy journey – not easy to begin, not easy to continue.”

However, when I think about women who don’t have the support system I had – college education; work history; good credit; family who bought plane tickets on the spot; a former employer who re-hired me; friends who gave us dishes, clothes, toys, dignity – when I think about women who are lacking any of those things, I’m right back in that hallway, staring at that fist, trying to gather the courage to leave.

It is not an easy journey – not easy to begin, not easy to continue. This is the 19th year of the Spirit & Place Festival and the festival will explore JOURNEY with events from November 7-16, 2014. Perhaps the conversation could include how our community can be one that listens supportively, gives generously without hesitation or judgment, and actively builds a foundation of encouragement on which we each can journey safely.

 

About the author

Andrea Feaster is a market research analyst who lives and works just north of Indianapolis. She now attends Church for the Nations, blogs sporadically at https://medium.com/@a_feaster, and tweets at @a_feaster.

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