Another Sisterhood Story… the clergy home is not immune to abuse, adultery, or addiction. When the pastor’s wife is the abuse victim, where can she safely turn for help?
There are days when I take stock of my life, and the weight of reality is crushing.
I’m that woman. The one you recoil from when a late-breaking scandal pummels the social media circuit because prominent respected leader ditched his lovely wife and kids for prostitutes and pornography.
The one you pity in silence. And stare at with questioning uncertainty. The one you secretly imagine yourself as, and ask yourself “what would I do if I were in HER shoes?”
That’s me. And it sucks.
The reality of BEING that woman is far heavier than you can imagine from your side of the screen. Because when you’re that woman — when you’re me — it isn’t just a piece of news. It’s your whole world.
Your world is roaring down in flames around you.
At some point, when the roaring slows and the blood-thunder stops pounding in your ears, you shake yourself from the shock and the stupor and the sorrow of it all. You bend over, clutching your children to your heaving chest, and you begin to sift the ashes of what used to be your life.
You sort through the remains of people’s opinions, of onlookers’ judgments, of their justified shock and unjustified solutions. You eventually stop stammering in shame, and you find yourself facing a choice.
You can let this other person’s actions — their infidelity, their fraud, their rotted soul and its irreparable fallout — you can allow it to define you…
You can stay cowed and cowering…
You can duck and hide and tiptoe the truth…
Or you can choose to stand alone.
Above the fog in public duty and in private thinking. (Thank you, Josiah Gilbert Holland.)
I choose to stand.
I am homeless. My children and I are living out of what we can pack in the back of our car. For months on end. Because of choices we didn’t make. Because of actions we did not take.
We are the collateral damage in the war lost by one man against his own impulses. Well… us and an entire congregation of hundreds of broken-hearted parishioners. But we feel it the deepest. It cuts us the most.
Regardless, I choose to stand tall. I choose to hold my head high even when I know they are whispering about me. I find odd and thorny comfort in the knowledge that his choices were his own. Therapy has helped me stop blaming myself and taking the guilt on my own shoulders.
If I have nothing else left, I will cling to my integrity and the truth. I will hold my honor close to my heart and…
I cannot. I have children to live for.
I am strong for my kids. Sometimes too strong, my mother says. “Let them see you cry sometimes… Let them see you feel.”
I rarely cry.
When I do, it comes in waves, the tears leaking or gushing. Unstoppable. A Niagara Falls beyond my control. If I let them all flow the flood would drown me. The pressure would crush out my breath.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
There is too much living to be done to spend much time on crying. Others tell me it will hit me sometime in the future, it will bowl me over with its intensity. They are probably right. But I’m an odd duck; I already know this. I have never wasted much time immersed in feelings that cannot bring a worthwhile end. Besides, the revelation that I am married to a sex addict is only shocking to OTHER people. People who trusted him. People he had fooled.
Me? I have been grieving my marriage since my first anniversary. That’s when he first told me he was addicted to pornography. That it had been part of his life since long before he knew me. That it had nothing to do with me, that he still thought I was beautiful, that it wasn’t really a big deal.
He promised he would stop, and I believed him.
Naive 23-year-old me. I had NO idea.
Our relationship began dying a slow death from that moment on. Trust was gone. Exploded in the knowledge that whenever I wasn’t looking, my husband was addicted to looking at other naked women. Knowledge that when he was irritable or abusive or short-fused and knee-jerk lying, it was because he was going through withdrawals from having not looked at enough other naked women recently.
I trembled my way through the natural cycles of anger, heartbreak, denial, and acceptance.
Because whom do you tell this shocking truth, when the telling would be the end of your pastor-husband’s livelihood? What kind of loyal wife feels free to expose that skeleton to the world? Of course not.
So I suffered in silence. Hoping each new promise would become the one that was kept.
Except that unlike a death, or a breakup, there wasn’t just one occurrence to grieve.
Because in this reality, the grieving happens over.
And over again, until the trauma becomes predictable.
Every time you think you have reached acceptance, there is a new disclosure.
A new betrayal. A fresh wound.
Healing becomes impossible while you’re trapped in this cycle. Instead of healing, you learn to survive. You learn to cope. You practice the art of smiling through the betrayal, until you explode over something stupid like him forgetting to pick up bananas at the market.
You know it isn’t about the bananas. It’s that he said he would and then he didn’t. Much like he said he would be faithful to you but he isn’t. Like he once swore before God and witnesses that he would protect you and provide for you but instead he’s the one wielding the filleting knife on your soul.
You finally accept that you simply can’t trust him.
It’s that the one person in the world chosen above all others to hold the treasure of your heart, has traded and trashed it in exchange for acts of ongoing adultery with his left hand and a screen, all while telling you that it isn’t your fault and it isn’t about you.
But that doesn’t help you trust him more. In fact it makes you believe him less. It just confirms that he knows how to lie better than you had imagined. That he is more committed to pleasing himself than to loving you. That he is capable of moving from watching a screen to sexually encountering other women in real life, while preaching weekly to his congregation about God’s faithfulness and the morals of scripture.
That truth sits hard and cold and knotted in your stomach. Some days it eases, those days when he seems less preoccupied.
Those days are rare.
After a few years, you stop noticing the icy lump in your middle… it is simply a part of existence. Like breathing or hearing or speaking. It entwines itself into your reality until you forget that there was once a life before it, a life without it.
So you live.
And you rarely cry. Because if you let yourself start, really let the tears flow, you have so many shattered years to mourn that you might still be crying in your old age.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
This is a real story.
This Sisterhood survivor remains anonymous for the protection of her family.
People of faith everywhere want to believe their faith communities are immune to domestic violence, sexual addiction, and abuse. I know it’s not true because I hear the stories percolating behind perfect facades.
- the Sisterhood of victims currently in crisis.
- the Sisterhood of survivors who are building lives from the rubble.
- the Sisterhood of warriors who are raising their voices to bring an end to the misrepresentation of God’s character in God’s name within the faith community.
One of the ways we change culture?
By telling these stories.
Is your church really as safe as you think it is?
- If someone was abusing a child close to you, could you tell?
- Don’t victims often make up accusations to get attention?
- God tells us to forgive and forget, but does that include letting a sex offender attend church with children present?
- How can faith communities effectively protect our most vulnerable members?
Far too often, faith communities are soft targets for abuse of many kinds. Myths on forgiveness, repentance, and reporting allow predators and abusers to manipulate and deceive.
Myths We Believe, Predators We Trust will equip you to debunk 37 common myths about abuse in church, making your faith community a safer place.