I walk calmly toward the door to the garage. My heart pounding in my chest. Just a few more steps. In my car, out the driveway. As I drive away, my whole body sighs deeply. Am I safe? I glance in the rearview mirror to see if he’s following me. My mind is racing. I call my lawyer, then the locksmith.
Just a few minutes before, I was standing in my backyard talking to a repairman about the septic tank. My husband shows up and starts talking to the guy as if he still lives there. I’m ignoring him while I give him the stink eye. He’s acting very strange. The repairman leaves, and I walk to the backdoor to go into my house. When I turn to close the door, my husband gently pushes his way in.
Me: What are you doing? You can’t be here.
Him: This is my house. I can be here if I want to.
And as if he’s never left, he begins to quote scripture to me: "For this reason a man shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. What therefore God has joined…”
Me: No, we’re legally separated now. You have to leave.
He moves closer to me. And reaches out for my arm. I pull away and put my hand up.
Him: In the eyes of God, we’re still married. It wouldn’t even be wrong for us to have sex.
The look in his eye. I’ve never seen that before.
I remember my brother’s words when I told him about the abuse, the separation, “Do you think he’d ever hurt you? Are you in danger?”
My immediate “No!” was echoing in my head.
He’s looking around the house. He hasn’t been living here for several months. I take the opportunity to turn and walk calmly toward the garage to escape. I consciously tell myself, “Don’t run. Deep breath. Just leave, now.”
Once I’m a couple blocks away, I pick up my phone. The first call to my lawyer is to ask to begin proceedings for a restraining order he’s been advising me to do for several weeks. The stalking has reached a new level. Before he would drive up and down the street revving his loud Mustang, letting me know he was out there, watching me. I would find long, handwritten “love letters” in the mailbox - with no stamp, letting me know he had been by. One time I came home after a long day to find a big box in the living room - his handwriting on the outside of it. He’d been there. Inside. While I was gone. The box, full of his best attempt to woo me back, was a red flag of his escalating stalking.
It concerned me that he was bold enough to come inside while I was gone. It frightened me a little, but I thought it wasn’t that bad. I considered changing the locks, but that seemed extreme at the time.
But this, this was too much. I’d had enough. This time he threatened me. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened if I hadn’t left. How far would he take his threat to have sex with me? My second call was to the locksmith.
I really didn’t want to have a TRO filed against him. He is the father of my children. What would the people at the church think? He’s still their pastor, their priest.
Years passed before I realized my marriage wasn’t just hard, unpleasant and void of love…it was abusive. I never had bruises. Never had to go to the ER, but my self-worth was destroyed, and he nearly broke my spirit. When we married in the early ‘80s, domestic violence was a private matter. In the US, the first shelters for victims had only been open a few years, and domestic abuse was still hidden in the shadows.
The coercive control and emotional, psychological, and some-what physical abuse (‘the two shall be one flesh,’ in his mind, meant he owned my body) took its toll as the years went by. But the spiritual abuse, the constant shaming followed by scripture quotes gave me the clear message that God was on his side. That I was unworthy and rebellious and never good enough to measure up to the Lord’s expectations. My salvation was always in jeopardy, reminded regularly that I would not be with my husband in eternity if I didn’t follow God’s teachings. His words echoed in my mind for years. This was the hardest abuse to recover from, to erase the lies, to find myself again, and repair my relationship with God.
After my locks were changed, I had a nightly ritual of making sure every door was locked. And, sadly, to this day, I cannot sleep unless I do the same. Sometimes glancing twice just to be sure. I’ve done therapy, I’ve let go of a lot of triggers, but this one lingers more than a decade later.
I implore anyone who is in a relationship who is made to feel less than worthy, especially when your faith is used against you, to control and manipulate you, please consider reaching out for help. It is still abuse even if there are no visible bruises. We’ve learned so much in the past decade about the red flags and signs of escalating danger. Calling a local hotline will connect you with someone who will first, believe you, then help you assess your danger level, connect you with services, and help you begin to create a plan so you can leave your abuser safely. The highest risk for fatality is the first 90 days after a victim leaves. Take his threats seriously. Reach out for help. You are worthy. And there is a sisterhood of survivors waiting to welcome you to life after abuse.
Call the National Hotline (800-799-7233) to be connected to services near you.
Tracy Rector never dreamed of being a filmmaker, but not long ago found herself on a movie set in Texas as executive producer for a film to raise awareness of domestic violence. Her passion as a survivor to reach out to other victims was the force behind the project. No Ordinary Love is now streaming on several sites. Tracy knew the film had to portray an authentic look at DV. While serving on the board of directors for the domestic violence shelter agency in Fort Worth, Tracy realized, the DV homicide victims in the area had not reached out for help. With the apparent need for awareness, film was the perfect choice for reaching a broad and global audience. The film is now streaming in 18 countries worldwide. She created PROJECT #RaiseAwareness to take the film to college campuses as a Title IX program to help this highest risk age group know the signs of abuse. She invites everyone to share their feedback after watching the film and follow along on social media. Tracy continues to tell her story publicly to empower victims and to help others understand “why she doesn’t just leave."
Twitter: @TracyRector1 @NOLMovie