A few years ago I read Self Harmers in the Church by Sharon Dickens, and I remembered my close brush with self-destruction. I’m not super excited to share this with you. It’s something I’d like to pretend I never thought about. But my experience gave me some personal insights into this subject, and if there’s a chance it could help someone else, then I want to share it.
At that point in my journey, I was in the midst of crying out for help to anyone who might listen regarding my destructive marriage. I had been asking for help off and on over the course of 23 years with no luck. (This is back when I thought I needed someone to rescue me – before I learned that I could be my own best advocate!) Whenever I dared to stick my neck out and describe my confusion and frustration, the answer was always the same. “It takes two to tango. You’re a sinner too. Work on your own stuff. Respect your husband. Submit. Christ suffered, so rejoice in your sufferings. Be good. Shut up.”
Choppy chop went my neck on the block.
So I worked on my stuff. And I worked. And worked. And nothing changed in our relationship. No conflict was truly resolved, regardless of my efforts or how much I prayed or how much faith and perseverance I could muster up or how many times I could forgive. The only way forward was to take the blame and sweep it under the rug.
After several years I was beside myself with confusion. Surely this is not what the Bible taught about relationships? Surely there were more constructive and mutually satisfying ways to deal with conflict other than taking sole responsibility for everything that went wrong?
After a few more years I wasn’t sure how I was going to get to the end of my life without ending up in a funny farm.
And after a few MORE years, I decided I was done. Something had to give. The pain was now greater than the fear of bucking the system, and I decided to stop playing my own role in the sick cycle and see if things might shake down enough to bring about a healing change for both of us.
Of course I got the painful but predictable kick back from Christians who “loved me too much to let me wiggle out of the personal hell designed for me by God.” There was betrayal. I had my own issues to work through at the same time I was setting boundaries. It was messy. And at one point when things were at their lowest, and it appeared nobody on planet earth gave a damn about me or my kids…
I decided to start cutting notches in my thigh.
I know shredding up my legs sounds dramatic and ridiculous and desperate. But here was my reasoning: the kind of abuse I was experiencing in my marriage was subtle. My husband wasn’t beating me or swearing at me or doing anything anyone could see on the outside.
But what if, every time I was bleeding on the inside where nobody could see, I cut myself? I could take care of that kind of wound. I could wipe off the blood and apply antibiotic ointment and a band-aid. I could take care of myself. It would heal. IT WOULD HEAL. Unlike the chronic abuse I was experiencing.
And I would have a scar. A scar to remind me of how it hurts like hell to be treated like a nothing. Maybe if I had hundreds of scars all over my legs – one for each unresolved conflict representing each time I was emotionally cut, I could visually prove that I was a real person with real feelings, and my life meant something. I wasn’t a nobody who felt nothing; who could be treated like a non-person without consequence.
Because it wasn’t just my husband who couldn’t see me. It was every Nice Christian I had begged for help from. It was everyone I had dared to make myself vulnerable with. Everyone who approved of my being made into a nothing-person because I was only a woman. Only a wife. Worth something only for what I could give to a man or a church or a friend.
I realized with bitter sorrow why some girls might cut. Maybe they feel invisible and want to be seen. Maybe they want to be known. Maybe nobody is listening. And you know what? We can tell them until the cows come home that Jesus sees them and knows them, but if we aren’t being the hands and feet of Jesus in their lives, all that is – is worthless words that make no sense. I had a long term, deep, abiding relationship with Christ. But the fact is, God gave us one another for a reason. Blowing people off with “God loves you – He’s all you need. Be good and don’t be so selfish and needy. Gotta run…(James 2:16)” isn’t what He had in mind for relationships.
I didn’t cut myself. Someone warned me that my husband could use that as part of his smear campaign, and I didn’t want to give him more fodder for that.
I’m in a different place now. I’ve got inner scars, but they don’t hurt so much anymore when touched. God has done a huge work since this dark moment, and I have hope He will continue to do a good work.
Here is the list of books I read back then that helped me figure out and name the destructive dynamic in my marriage. (Because there were several things these books didn’t address related to the particular challenges women of faith have, I wrote another one. Is it Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage: A Christian Woman’s Guide to Hidden Emotional and Spiritual Abuse.)
Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft
A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church by Anna Wood and Jeff Crippen
Whose Pushing Your Buttons: Handling the Difficult People in Your Life by Dr. John Townsend
People of the Lie by Scott Peck
Character Disturbance: The Phenomenon of Our Age by George Simon
The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us by Ross Rosenberg
Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend