A Decision in Hindsight

A year after writing my book, there is one decision I made that I have wrestled with. I wouldn't necessarily say it is a full blown regret. But it's the one thing I have struggled with, asking myself, "Was that the right choice?" And in hindsight, I don't think it was. I have been wrestling with this for a while now, but especially over the last 24 hours. I don't know if it will be helpful to anyone other than me, but I have decided this is something I want to write about on my blog.

As I wrote about my life, it was of the utmost importance to me that I write honestly, but with kindness, compassion and grace. There were many experiences I could have shared in the book that would have made it juicier. But I didn't want to include anything that wasn't necessary to the message of the book. I didn't want to consciously indulge myself in reader sympathy. And, most of all, I agonized over hurting people. I knew I would have to live with the content of the book for the rest of my life. And I didn't want to have regrets.

I knew the one thing I could live with down the road was choosing to err on the side of kindness. So, in many places, I chose the softest words possible. I tried to let the reader reach his or her own conclusions rather than make strong statements of judgment. Each reader will have their own perspective on whether or not I succeeded. But it was my goal. And I am satisfied that I accomplished it. I just wonder if, in one case, I went too far in kindness.

One subject I really did not want to write about was my first marriage. I realized that I could not avoid the subject entirely. But if I wrote about that part of my life, it would be an entire book (not a chapter or two or three). And the theme of my book was spiritual abuse; not domestic abuse. I didn't want to take the reader down too many side roads. One of the primary goals of editing was to reduce the word count.

In addition to all of that, I did not want to humiliate. For that reason, I chose to omit numerous hurtful experiences and especially cruel words (not only where my previous marriage was concerned, but in other significant relationships as well). If it wasn't necessary to the message of the book to include, I didn't want to go there.

I thought that an educated reader might be able to read between the lines and grasp from the little I did write that I was in an abusive marriage. But I made a conscious choice not to use the words abuse or abusive. And I now have mixed feelings about that choice. I still don't regret not going into graphic detail, but I think I should have said: "I was abused." Because I was.

The truth is, I endured spousal abuse beginning with the very first week of marriage, when I was only 16 years old. And that first incident involved violence. I was abused emotionally, verbally, mentally and sometimes physically. When I finally did leave, I typed fourteen pages, single spaced, citing the most recent examples of abusive behavior I endured (for my attorney). I think it may have been a mistake to leave something that significant to the reader's ability to read between the lines.

When I finally left the marriage, I was in a traumatized condition. I wondered if I had thrown my life away by being so determined to stay and endure for a lifetime. But that was the promise I made, and I believed that was what God required of me. I don't regret staying as many years as I did because I was trying to do the right thing and I sincerely wanted to please God. But I do regret being a doormat. And I truly was.

By failing to address the issue of abuse, I have at times worried that I might have confused some readers; or worse, left the impression that God gave me a pass on my commitment. He did not. I believe that after many years of enabling ungodly behavior and submitting myself to very wrongful abuse (thinking I was being a good wife), God, in His great mercy, rescued and delivered me. But it was much more than an unhappy marriage. And I think in my effort to be kind and let bygones be bygones, I failed to share with readers the gravity of my situation.

I will never forget sitting in my lawyer's office on that first visit, fearfully contemplating the potential consequences of filing for divorce on the grounds of abuse. I knew the anger I would trigger by simply using the word. I was overwhelmed with fear. And it took all the courage I could possibly muster to do what I knew I had to do; tell the truth. I was a broken, emotionally battered woman who could not even talk to my lawyer about my situation without tears and trembling. I have to wonder if, while writing the book, I subconsciously avoided the word abuse at least partially out of the same fear of anger and unwanted repercussions. If I did, that was wrong and self-serving of me. However, I realize that we sometimes convince ourselves our reasons are noble when they are self-protecting.

In my last blog entry, I made reference to a memory that was triggered by a certain location (a restaurant) and how much emotion that memory produced this many years later. It was just one incident of abuse; certainly not the most shocking incident I could share. It was typical of so many bizarre situations I had to cope with. At the time, I knew it was wrong. But an abusive person manipulates, twists words, and attempts to make their victim feel in the wrong; YOU are the REAL source of all the problems. In many instances, I was an easy target for this because I am insecure and I am prone to doubt myself even without encouragement.

In this particular incident, it was being insisted upon that I accept a regular lunch date with a married man (a co-worker of my ex who liked me and showed an interest in taking me to lunch alone). I found this "request" not only offensive and unreasonable, but that it became a demand was hurtful. It clearly communicated that I was an object. I wasn't allowed to refuse without severe emotional consequences (rage, insults and the silent treatment for days). After pleading my case unsuccessfully and ultimately just refusing to comply, I was belittled and bullied and blamed for my unreasonable desire to spend the day alone in a hotel room studying.

I had accepted one invitation to lunch on a previous trip, simply to be friendly and agreeable. But I drew the line at having a regular lunch date required and arranged for me on subsequent visits. The trigger for this memory (which I have not thought about in years) was the restaurant where I had lunch with this co-worker that one time. I can't even remember the guy's name or what he looked like. He seemed nice enough and perhaps the interest was innocent. But I found my ex-husband's insistence on setting up a regular lunch date with his male co-worker and myself to be distasteful. I still do. It was partly the realization that I was nothing more than an extension of him and his ego. I was there to provide narcissistic supply. And when I refused, I was objectified and ridiculed.

The memory of being treated that way is not pleasant. But I don't think it was the memory of this one event that triggered emotion on Sunday. That one incident was representative of my life from 16 to 43. I was essentially a piece of furniture that had no right to say "That hurts!" when kicked. The intensity of emotion comes from wondering how in the world I could have willingly endured being treated with such contempt for so long. And when I reflect on my role in the abuse, I am angry with myself. I am mortified. And yet, oddly enough, I did not think it necessary to acknowledge that I was in an abusive marriage in a book about my own life. The irony of that really hit me Sunday as I reflected on the "incident."

I now know what it's like to be in a healthy relationship where I am a person with the freedom to have feelings and opinions of my own. John shows me a tremendous amount of respect as a human being. I am still at times overwhelmed and amazed by the level of consideration and respect he shows for me. He genuinely cares about my feelings and he makes that very clear through his actions. I don't think I could ever take that for granted because, even after seven years with him, I am still in awe of the way he treats me. That is one of the reasons why I continually express my thankfulness for him. I was raised in a very patriarchal environment where males mattered more than females. And I don't think I had any expectation of a man ever treating me the way John treats me, even in the very best of circumstances. He is an absolute miracle in my life.

By the end of the day, I may regret going into so much detail. And if the post (or a part of it) disappears, you will know that I must have reconsidered the value of publishing it. But I think I needed to write it and share it. And for those who are reading my blog because you have read my book (or vice versa), I wanted to acknowledge what was glaringly absent from the book. I hope by writing this on my blog, I can let it go and not beat myself up too much for the omission.


Anonymous said…
Truth leads to healing, and while sometimes it isn't always pretty and while there is a time to speak and a time to keep silent (and God will let you know when is which) truth is never the wrong choice. Kudos to your bravery and courage. {{hugs}}
Anonymous said…
I found this book was about Brother Mears, not about yourself. As a matter of fact, you are capacious by your absence.

I should like to read your biography. I can understand that you wish to protect your children and since your 'ex' was, and probably still is, abusive, you would run the chance of libel.
Yes, the truth can set you free, but it can also imprison the innocent.
Unless you believe the saying:

"If I can't be a good example, let me be such a bad example that on-one wants to imitate me."
Shari said…
Thanks, Hillary. I didn't wind up having any second thoughts about this post. Hugs back at ya.

Anonymous, I was a little confused by your comment. Not sure how to respond. I was surprised you thought I was absent from the book and I had to look up capacious because I wasn't sure what it meant. But the definition didn't clear it up for me (spacious or roomy). I'm thinking perhaps you meant something different than that.

It's funny; most readers have commented that the book was so extremely personal and one person even remarked that she felt like she was peeking into my diary while reading. But you thought the book was primarily about Brother Mears. I guess every reader brings a unique perspective, as does the writer. For me, the book was very personal and I consider it my testimony. However, Brother Mears was a very significant part of much of my life and I couldn't possibly share my testimony without many references to him and his influence in my life.

About my ex, I will say this. I am no longer imprisoned. I was. But I'm not anymore. And I wasn't worried about libel. There is only one way someone can have grounds for libel; if they can prove that you printed something you know to be false. I wouldn't do that, but the reason I wouldn't is that I fear God.

I actually have considered writing a biographical novel; fiction based on my true life experiences and possibly composite characters. I definitely want to write again.
Anonymous said…
The word should have read "conspicuous."
I'm not a very good communicator. And Yes, the book WAS a wonderful testimony of your journey.
Guess what I wanted was a personal look in your private life. But that be as it may, I could not put your book down and read it until 2 in the morning.

Yeah, write a novel. That would really be a very cool read! I'll buy the book and am sure it would be a Best Seller.
There is so much garbage written now that a fictional book such as you could write, would be, I am sure, welcomed.
Shari said…
Thanks for your follow-up comment. I have found that communicating via the Internet can have limitations. It's easy to read something into an anonymous remark that isn't even there . . . or to be confused by it. I sometimes get anonymous comments from people who are not happy with me for writing the book. They often take little jabs at me and often do it anonymously, saying they know me well but don't wish to reveal their identity "at this time." So, keeping that in mind, I wasn't sure how to interpret your quote. I almost wondered if you were someone from my past. But the more I thought about it, I realized that was me reading between the lines and you may not have meant it the way it COULD be taken. I'm so glad you came back and responded to my confusion. Thank you for that.

It's a nice compliment that you would buy a book focusing on my private life.

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