I listen to Julie (not her real name) tell of the abusive relationship she was in for a few years. It has been about four years now since that relationship ended in a physical explosion in which she almost lost her life. I listen to her recount the slow descent into obsession and isolation. As she describes the subtle demeaning and intrigue, the blatant lies and hopeful promises, the secrecy and excitement, she no longer relives the intensity of those moments. It is more of a muted memory. It has taken some time for her to separate herself from the experience and begin to take away what good has come from it.
After the most immediate healing, one of the things that she dealt with is a sense of shame. The stigma that says it was somehow her fault. [Insert volumes of dissertation about this curiously natural and painful phenomena.] As she reflects on how she ended up in the midst of the chaos, she repeats phrases like:
“I was educated, smart.”
“I knew better.”
“I was desperate, so I ignored the warnings.”
“…despite my resolve to not let it happen.”
“I realized the abuse, but still had the obsession and love.”
What can make a woman so desperate as to ignore obvious warnings that she is plodding headlong into a black-hole of danger? There is something big that has left a hole. But whatever it is, it is missing, so we don’t know what it is. It just keeps crying out to be filled. Like black holes do. Silently. Not declaring where the point of no return actually is. If we knew what was missing, we would fill it and not be desperate anymore.
In Julie’s case, her journey of healing took her into her childhood where she discovered there were several craters that had never been filled. She thought they had. But they had unsuspectingly turned into an all-consuming vortex of need. Other women have their own reasons, vulnerabilities, hopes and fears that create this unidentified desperation.
During her recovery, Julie discovered, and was comforted by, the fact that she is definitely not alone in having believed she was immune to such a relationship and having ended up living the nightmare anyway. Sharing experiences with others has helped diminish the shame. However, she admits there is still a level of self-forgiveness that she is working on.
Even though she has forgiven her abuser, she claims she still struggles to forgive herself “for making him my world…idolatry.” She reiterates “At some point I turned away from God and he became my god.” But in the next breath she reveals “My wounds had more power than intellect and education,” indicating she is sharing some of the blame with those who left those craters in a little girl’s life.
She thinks again, remembering that “My brokenness led me to God” and “I changed my behavior because of God’s love,” for which she is grateful. Pausing to reflect on the immensity of God’s love for her, and just how far He has brought her, she quietly says to no one in particular that maybe she is closer to embracing God’s forgiveness than she thought.