Dealing With the Aftermath of Abuse

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

[This article was originally written in early 2008. At that point it had been a little over two years since my marriage ended.

Now, in August, 2009, I am reading back over what I wrote and would like to add some further insight provided by time and the leading of God on my journey. I will add these comments at the end of the original piece.]

It’s 12:15 a.m. I’m awake again and can’t sleep. This happens to me alot. It’s light-years better than it used to be, but it’s still a common occurrence. I wake up in the night disturbed by my dreams. While I can filter my thought processes during the day, at night the gates are open and “unmanned.” That’s when all the emotions overwhelm me.

When I was in my late 20s I realized I had nightmares most nights and had for as long as I could remember. These nightmares were the product of the church terror motivation campaign – the world is out to get Christians and will torture and kill us all if they get a chance (including showing graphically violent movies depicting this to teens and adults – talk about abuse!); the government is controlled by evil gremlins who hate Christians and will tear apart Christian families if they get a chance; etc.

On the other side of the coin was the church’s constant drill that I was inherently evil and unacceptable. In real life I was regularly held up for public reprimand and ridicule in youth group and at Christian school and that phenomenon appeared in my dreams frequently as well – though I followed the rules religiously. Fortunately, I knew my parents loved me, but in my dreams they turned on me just like the church did. Those dreams were a reflection of what was happening in real life, just magnified and concentrated.

Realizing I was being plagued by nightmares allowed me to address those fears on a conscious level. But they reappear from time to time still. In more recent years, the dreams that haunt me are of my marriage and rejection by the church.

By the time I left my husband the last time (Oct. 2005) I was having nightly terroristic nightmares. These dreams were direct products of the reality of our daytime relationship; somewhat magnified, but definitely reflections of reality on some level. I woke from these dreams sometimes sobbing out loud, sometimes shaking with terror so hard the whole bed shook, and three or four days a week I woke with a full-blown migraine in progress.

The church couldn’t – or wouldn’t — help with this. It took a psychologist to help me get free of these nightmares and the resultant migraines – though there was no reason I had to go outside the church for this help. It just needed someone with understanding and a willingness to dig into and address things, not someone with a doctoral degree in psychology. It really wasn’t complicated or technical.

Though my days are now peaceful for the first time in many years, I still relive the nightmare at night to a lesser degree. I wake up in the middle of the night, sometimes literally hurting so bad it feels like I’m having a heart attack. WHY??? Why does it have to hurt so bad?

What hurts the most is that the church both allowed and encouraged me to stay in an abusive marriage for 20 years. In fact, it did more than just encourage me to stay in that marriage. The church held additional rejection and judgment over my head if I dared to get out. I knew if I defied the church and got a divorce I would be branded forever. But staying and “working on” my marriage year after year after year was literally killing me. Ultimately it came down to obeying the direction of God and choosing the rejection of the church to stay alive. That’s a simplistic bottom-line view of a complex issue, but it is true.

In the nights when I wake up crying and can’t sleep I wonder how the church can justify its attitude toward marriage and family. The sanctity of marriage is not paramount over the sanctity of life. I wonder how the church can justify a gospel of fear, judgment and rejection. This has to be opposite of God’s desires and yet it goes on and on and on, with vested (or perhaps “encrusted” would be more appropriate) church leaders holding staunchly to tradition to the detriment of people’s real lives.
It is wrong, it matters, real people are being hurt by the church, and knowing this, I cannot sit by and do nothing. And I have to live with my nightmares and sleepless nights in the meantime.

Update: August, 2009

God is so faithful to hear the cries of our hearts. While, in the moment, things may seem insurmountable and endless, He sees a different picture. The nightmares have almost entirely ceased – so it does get better.

As I have sought God about all of this, He has worked to heal my heart – both toward my ex-husband and toward the church. He has continued to affirm that, indeed, abuse in the church and the home is not His plan.

Most importantly, as I have continued to seek Him and reject bitterness (which has been a terrific battle, in complete honesty!) He has taught me truth from His Word that has transformed my life on more levels than just healing from my abusive marriage. He has taught me so much as I’ve been willing to humble myself before Him and receive from Him – allowing Him full access to all my preconceptions of truth.

I know this is a work that will never be complete in this life as I’m transformed into the image of Christ. But it is a huge example of how God will redeem what Satan meant for evil. God is faithful, faithful, faithful and can be fully trusted.

If I look at the church through the eyes of my experience, and the continued experiences of others, I can easily become overwhelmed by discouragement and slide back into bitterness. But one thing God is teaching me is to see it through His eyes.

Jesus died for this church! He died to sanctify a bride for Himself. The church is misunderstanding the truth of who He is and what all He died to accomplish. That is a cause for grief, not anger.

I cannot single-handedly fix the problem. But what I can do is what He has given me to do – teach the gospel. Jesus defined the gospel in Luke 4:18-19 – it is about more than just handing out free tickets to heaven. It is for the hurts of our todays! Jesus provided an amazing gift in His death and resurrection for our present days, not just our eternal destiny – and the church has virtually lost that truth in the bondage of our traditions.

If I am in bondage to bitterness and hurt, I cannot share the liberating truth of what Jesus came to offer to all of the body of Christ. And that “all” includes the very ones who have twisted the Word into a weapon – mostly in ignorance. God loves these people. In fact, these ones who hurt others are frequently themselves walking wounded, even if they will not ever admit to it publically or even to themselves in private. Wounded people wound people, as I’ve heard said many times.

I can’t free myself from the hurt of the past – but God is a faithful and sure healer. As I have sought Him, and continue to do so, He faithfully brings the balm of His comfort and healing to me. And He will do the same for every one of us who have been wounded inside the walls of buildings and institutions called “church.”

34 Responses

  1. Danni and Sherri,

    thank you very much for your answers. I have support of my mother and sister in my divorce, apart from simply believing me they witnessed the abusive behavior of my husband. And I have a couple of friends from the church who are supportive in my situation. One of them is actually a woman in the same kind of marriage that is why she believes and understands. But as other people start to find out I get a very attacking reaction from many. They think I am in sin or something like that. I cannot explain to everyone why we divorced, so I stopped going to church, because it is too traumatic for me. The people in authority already said that maybe I misunderstood my husband and really he didnt mean the things that he said and did. How can it be that he didnt mean it when he kept on twisting my arms or called me a prostitute or said he will kill himself?? This is difficult. I have been in ministry for many years and now I am outcast.

    • This is very typical, unfortunately. I had the full support of my family, who had watched the effects of the situation for 20 years. My brother and SIL had observed him directly and there was plenty to see even without seeing the violent rages. Other than that I had a couple friends who stood solidly beside me. Over time some more people eventually became supportive, especially once he moved out of state, fought a nasty custody battle, then rapidly remarried.

      But I also quit going to church eventually because of the trauma. At the time, I made myself continue going even though I sat in the back and kept to myself. I decided I would make no decisions about church until I had processed my divorce. I was concerned I would do something knee-jerk in an emotional reaction that I would later regret.

      However, once I had finished dealing with my divorce (took abt 2.5 yrs) I discovered that the issue with the church really was intolerable and decided I was worth more than that. It wasn’t that people were overtly mean to me but I was still pigeonholed and judged by the church leadership, and that was never going to change. I know God has more for me than that in the body of Christ, so I decided that was not going to be enough for me. I was out of church for 8 months before God led me to the one I am in now, which I adore. It is completely different.

      I still have a very hard time with Christians who “attack” people who are having marital problems. I observed that the other day, in fact, and had a very strong negative reaction. A woman mentioned being separated from her husband and another woman just jumped on her like a flea on a dog and started strongly preaching at her about being faithful to her marriage and trusting God. I didn’t want to make a scene, but my emotional response was so strong I had a choice of either jumping in and saying something that could create discord or leaving the room. I was almost rude to someone else in my rush for the door. Later when the “preaching” woman was gone I went to the separated woman and talked to her privately and gave her this website address.

      There are also a couple other people I’m praying for who are in bad marriage situations and believing they must be faithful and believe that God will restore — because this is what they’ve been taught by the church (as far as I know, neither situation involves abuse; it is more issues of abandonment, but the same principles apply; if I knew of abuse I would be more proactive). Unless God paves a way, I cannot say anything to them (particular circumstances) but it just tears me up because I can see they are in bondage where the Word and heart of God do not hold them.

      I know you feel like an outcast right now. And you are an outcast from where you were. But you are not an outcast in the kingdom of God and God WILL restore you to a place of service and belonging – probably better than before. The best part of your life lies ahead of you – I am sure of it.

      — Danni

  2. Thank you, Danni! This is great that you can help women like the one you wrote about. This is a very important ministry you are doing and there will be more people on your way placed by God to help them, I am sure. Because you have such an open heart for hurting people. I see Jesus in you.

    How did God lead you to a church where you are now?

    • I asked God to lead me to a church because I knew I could visit and search, literally for years in the Atlanta, GA area, and never find one that would be suitable. So I just continued to ask Him to direct me when the time came. And it was truly a God-thing. I was also on a search for wisdom for physical healing of cancer and asking God to teach me the truth about that. In the process, God prompted a friend from another state to listen to a particular preacher one day and then send me the link to that teaching online. Through that (and how God has unfolded on the path since then) I not only learned MUCH about healing but found a Bible college whose theology I could agree with near me. When God showed me I would be staying near the school (I had planned to move), I called for information about the program. While I was on the phone, I asked the woman I spoke with if there were churches in this area that taught along the same lines. She suggested her church — and I’ve been there ever since. And I’m also now in Bible college, where God provided my full tuition for the year anonymously. 😉 I graduated from a 4-year Bible college right out of high school. This is light years different! It is very exciting to be walking right in the middle of God’s path and being directed very clearly and visibly!

      And God has that very kind of provision and guidance for you, too. I love Is. 54 where the Word talks about how God will take care of the “widowed” woman — who in that context was a woman who was abandoned by her husband, not one whose husband died. Granted, the passage is also metaphorically talking about Israel, but that same God takes care of us exactly the way Is. 54 describes.

      — Danni

  3. This is a great story of God’s provision and leading! I am encouraged and I am looking for God’s miracles in my situation with the church.

    How did people react to the fact that you are divorced in your new church? How did the leadership react? Are you involved in any ministry there?

    • Before I made a decision to attend on a regular basis I talked to the pastors of the church and told them everything. I was very candid. They were completely supportive and told me how the church administrator had a similar situation and when she was divorced they stood up for her to the Board of Directors (proactively) and kept her in her position as church administrator. She had done nothing wrong – why should she be punished for her spouse’s sin?

      I have had no negative responses from people at my new church but if I did, it would probably not bother me a whole lot since I know the church leadership is behind me. They also know about and have seen this blog and know what I do here. That was a big step for me. Very few people in my “real” life have known about this just because I didn’t need people’s judgment. Now I’m sharing it more and more with people I know IRL, including quite a few people at church.

      And, yes, I am involved in ministry there. I am completely accepted without conditions. The pastors would also remarry me if I chose to do so — and frankly, they are the only pastors I would let do it and this is the only church I would do it in. I had thought that if I did remarry it would have to be a civil ceremony because I could never trust pastors or a church to have any part of it again. But here it’s different.

      Now, for the record, I have no plans for marriage at this time! LOL! Haven’t even dated or wanted to. I joke about having “don’t even think about it” tatooed on my forehead, right under the scarlet D. 😉 But who knows what God will do in the future.

  4. I hope to be married to a good man who loves God someday and I really want to have kids.

    So, I hope I will date someday after I get divorced (I am right in the middle of this process).

    I cant believe it! My alsmost ex-husband wrote a letter today about how it was all my initiative to get deivorced and how he did all he could to save our marriage and I didnt want this. He asks people to pray for me and help me while I am in sin….He is going to send it to as many people who know me as he can…….I cant believe it.

  5. Your almost-ex is behaving true to norm for an unrepentant abuser, Viktoria. Sigh. And I know that feeling of “I can’t believe what he’s just done!” They are truly in a different reality from us, and that’s why they behave so totally differently from a normal person. They are impelled by the need to prove they are right and everyone else (particularly their spouse) is wrong. It’s awful, and even though we have experienced their techniques over and over again, we still get amazed.

    When I try to empathetically think myself into the mind of my ex-husband, I really can’t penetrate it. It is so dark and inverted and distorted by sin. “Their words are smoother than oil yet they are drawn swords ” (Psalm 55).

    As for how I handled disbelief from my church when I separated from my ex (ten years ago now), I did not handle it very well. I tried to address the offence they’d done to me (they’d blamed and condemned me, but not condemned my husband to nearly the same extent).

    I did this by approaching them according to the first step of Matthew 18:15-17. They stalled for months, just giving no response to my polite but firm request that they reply (I’d asked that we talk about how they might have offended me; seeking to come to Christian reconciliation). Then after months of patient waiting (I was on reasonable terms with the ordinary members of the congregation, so I was not being totally frozen out) I politely asked them again.
    Their response was “Yes, we’re ready to talk to you.”
    I said “So I take it that means you are willing to talk about my having been offended by you?”
    They replied “We’re willing to talk about whether there is a place for you in the church any more.”

    So I knew I was going to be disfellowshipped.
    Stupidly, I stuck it out to the bitter end. I went to the meeting they scheduled because I figured it would be my last chance to tell them what I thought. I regret that my words that day were spoken in anger and indignation. I am somewhat ashamed that I let myself go like that.

    But it’s been done. Needless to say, I never went back to that church for fellowship.

    They actually told me at that meeting that if I tried to go back to their church I would not be allowed to participate. (How they planned to execute that edict I was never sure. Did they mean they would have a bouncer on the door preventing my entry? Were they going to stop me if I reached for the communion cup?)

    I did actually go back once, when they were having a visiting speaker who I wanted to hear. I did the right thing by ringing a senior elder who had been present at that final meeting (there was no pastor, only a group of elders) to ask whether I could go to that speaker. He said I could go. I told him I was asking because I had previously been told that I would not be allowed to participate in any church activities. He denied ever telling me that.

    This is so typical. They strong-arm us, then deny they ever did it. Just like our abusers do.

    I went church shopping for a few weeks and was lucky enough to find a church where I did not have to edit half the sermon and leave the discarded bits on the floor before I left the service. (LOL)

    After some months I got the courage to tell the new pastor my story. I did it using a hypothetical at first: “What would you do if a woman had been abused in such and such ways by her husband and had taken the step of separating and going for an intervention order?” He replied “Well I would say that was correct because Romans 13 says the secular courts and government is appointed by God to protect the vulnerable.” I immediately felt safe and disclosed that it was me. (Which of course he’d probably guessed, but I didn’t want to expose myself to direct condemnation so I trod carefully at first with that hypothetical question.)

    thanks so much everyone for your marvellous comments. This is such a wonderful support and recovery group!

  6. I recently purchased the book by Barbara Roberts called “Not Under Bondage”. I’m looking forward to reading and applying the truths shared in her book. Also, I live in the country outside of the nearest city. I do not participate in any “women’s support groups” at this time anywhere. So…I’m grateful unto the LORD Jesus for directing my path to find Danni’s web page and others. I have purchased many of the suggested books off of this site and others. It is such a blessing that there are books that share what “healthy” relationships sound and look like based on a Biblical World View. Some secular books have good insight as well…yet…being a Christian, I like hearing how other Christians have come through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and are able to share their experiences with others now that they are on the road to healing and being whole in Jesus. I am thankful for all the women that have cared to share their hurtful abusive relationships with others so we can learn from each other. Thank you.

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