Warning Signs

Michele Armstrong November 15, 2017 23
Warning Signs

I am blessed to live a peaceful, tranquil and beautiful life. I guess you would say I live on the mountaintop. But no mountaintop is possible without first experiencing the valley. We all have valleys. I had to endure my valley for a very long time. But the one thing I learned: God is ever faithful, even when we can’t feel him or hear him. He’s there. But I also feel impressed that he wants to use my experience in the valley for a purpose. I was a victim of abuse, and just maybe I can share something with others that will deter them from choosing the same course. I want to share with you about the warning signs to look for, whether for yourself or for someone else.

The early warning signs of abuse are very subtle, and may be hard to detect at first, especially when you are  unaware or uneducated on the subject. Girls, please listen to me. If you are in a relationship that you seriously question in any way, take it from me–GET OUT NOW! RUN! Run as fast as you can, and never look back. I can’t tell you how many warning signs I saw, and how strange I felt trying to justify the completely weird traits I witnessed in the early stages of our relationship. And they were only to become increasingly bizarre. Believe me, as tenacious as you may be in “fixing” relationships or “fixing” broken people, you can’t imagine how painful it can be, and unfortunately, more than likely, you will fail. You can’t fix people. Leave that to Jesus. That’s his job.  Make certain you do not base a relationship on fixing another person.

As a young girl, I lived in my own world, my bubble, where life seemed untouched by anything truly painful or dark. It never occurred to me what pain others around me might be experiencing. In turn then, being a hopeless romantic, my dreams of what marriage would be for me were days of sunshine and laughter and nights listening to music nestled by the fire.  Of course, I know now no marriage is like that. But never did I imagine what mine was to be. My reality not only expelled any unrealistic notions, but it brought me face to face with darkness in a way I never knew existed in my circle of life– a horrible and frightening reality ushering in pain and regret, polar opposite of what I had imagined as a girl.

Oh yes. There were warning signs, apparently so obvious that even my friends picked up on them. One particular friend begged me on more than one occasion not to marry this man, and even tried to convince other people around me that things were not what they should be. I guess you could say I knew things were not normal. I had seen bizarre behavior that concerned me. But, as was my pattern, I only wanted to see the good. I wanted to believe that I could fix it. A love-conquers-all mentality. But even the best intentions can come to ruin.

In the beginning, I guess I should have known that it was really odd for a 28 year old man to be pursuing a 16 year old high school girl. But at that age, it’s kind of validating and even somewhat thrilling that any man that age would be interested in you. That’s not to say that there are not genuine loving relationships that share that age difference. But the age difference, combined with all the other odd traits that I saw, should have been my first warning sign. Our age difference benefited him. He knew he would have the upper hand. It was part of the “grooming” stage. He could make me into what he wanted me to be. He said I had been reserved just for him. I was his, he said. After all, he said, there was 10 years age difference between Abraham and Sarah, and she submitted to him, “calling him Lord”. And yes, he actually said that to me, and I was to be reminded of that “very important” bible verse many times in the years that followed. The manipulating of my mind with scripture had already begun.

He had only seen me twice before asking me to marry him. That is the definition of odd in every sense, but still I didn’t catch on. His reason for marrying me, according to his own words, was for sexual outlet.  It sickens me to write that. He didn’t say  he wanted to marry me because of grand dreams of creating a beautiful relationship serving the Lord together, and because he couldn’t live without me. It wasn’t so that he could spend the rest of his days showing me how much I meant to him. Our marriage served his needs. And it was upon that basis he married me. After all, as he referenced from scripture, “It’s better to marry than to burn with passion”.   Warning sign. And apparently, I was the privileged one. I mean I was lucky enough to be the one he chose after he has passed by so many others. In his words, “he could have had a harem.”. But he gave it all up for me and for the Lord.

Looking back, I remember instances that indicated that he would be in control. Early in our engagement, he told me I was getting “chunky”, and let me know I needed to watch that. He told me not to highlight my hair because he liked things “natural.” He created a huge scene because I slept with a little poodle dog that I loved–which I had done my whole life. He violently shook the “germs” out of the blanket, because his future wife was going to be “clean.” Even though it would be many months before we married, I was not to do it, beginning at that moment. No question. Warning signs. Those indicators of control were only to increase as time went on. You wouldn’t believe the maniacal scene that would be displayed in later years because I ordered a cappuccino. People are addicted to coffee and he was not going to have me partaking. Suffice to say, me and the whole car were wearing that cappuccino.  I don’t give these examples to be petty. I share them to shed light on surface circumstances and actions that could be indicative of deep problems.

He could be so smooth and convincing, and so spiritual and loving when he wanted me to believe what he was saying was true. It was straight from the mouth of God, or that was what he wanted me to think. The use of scripture to get what you want out of a person is one of the most devious forms of manipulation and abuse. After all, God has the final word, doesn’t he? So, if God says it, and it’s quoted in the right setting, it gets you right where the abuser needs you to be. You submit out of a sincere but misguided obedience to God, and slowly this person standing in front of you becomes your “god” of sorts. Now he is the one who formulates your belief system and any variance from what he dictates brings great retribution.

I witnessed severe anger issues early on in the relationship, and suffered explosive consequences for any infraction of the rules or question of his decisions or actions. It’s another form of mind control. You fear the outcome, so to side step any chance of his anger, you do what he bids. You walk on egg shells, or you drive yourself to the edge of madness trying to stay ahead of the game. You learn to live and act every moment as he bids, to avoid conflict. And then when you do falter, you do and say almost anything to diffuse the situation. You become a robot. You are defined by fear. Answering every command with obedience, no matter how bizarre in nature, you slowly lose who you are. You gradually slip away and fade into black. And his purpose is complete. He has utter control and has no fear of any sort of backlash for any decision, any self-serving purpose, any plan of action he may choose to implement.

This happened to me early on in our engagement. I lovingly tried to talk to him about concerns I had with our relationship. Believe me, I learned quickly, you question nothing. It was the first time I had tested the waters with interjecting an opinion. All of a sudden, I saw his face begin to grimace in anger, his voice became louder and louder, until he was yelling so loud I was afraid people around would hear him, even though we were standing in a parking lot next to a busy interstate. Suddenly, he exploded and forcefully punched the top of my vehicle and stormed off. I was so stunned by what I had just witnessed, I threw my engagement ring in the floor of the vehicle and sped away. The strange thing was, at that moment, I felt almost relieved. I had a legitimate reason to get out of the engagement. And that was my intention. But then the cycle continued.

Abusers know just what to say and do to get you to trust them again. They go out of their way, showering you with extravagant gifts, profuse apologies, promises that it will never happen again, and sharing bright and shining dreams for the future. And you are once again sucked in. This was the first time I had witnessed “violence” from him, but it was also only about the 5th time we had seen each other. It scared me. I had already seen signs of “weird” character traits. But this outburst was real and it was explosive. He knew he had messed up. He took me to a park and began crying and claiming he believed it would never happen again. He played on my sympathy. I still wasn’t convinced. So that night at church he went forward and asked for prayer and forgiveness publicly. This time he played on my spiritual nature, and there was also now a “pressure” to accept him back. Now there were on-lookers that saw his contrite apology and I felt they were waiting to see how I would respond. I felt as if he had rallied a force, I guess you would say–God and the church. I was only 17 years old. So the pressure and manipulation was very effective. I remember the moment later that night when I reached out and touched him to let him know it was okay. It almost makes me want to gag now. I had no idea what I was dealing with, and I trusted that it would never happen again. Life would be all I had dreamed it would be. But that notion would be shattered hundreds of times over and over in the days and months and years to come.

That pattern would continue throughout the course of 30 years and only become worse and more maniacal until he had complete control of all of me. Only now do I see how truly sick I became over the years. Sick in mind, body, soul, and spirit.

But I serve a great God. A God of healing, hope and recovery. Jesus is the Great Physician. He can restore the mind, renew the body and the Spirit, creating a whole person again. He can deliver from the chains of abuse, of addiction, of depression, of anger, of unforgiveness–of anything that keeps us from being all we can be. We just have to be ready to listen, and open to His power. We have to recognize our need for restoration, and confess and release our decisions that may have put us in spiritual bondage. Some things are forced upon us. Some we open the doors for. When we take responsibility for listening to lies of Satan, and lay it all at the feet of Jesus, a whole new perspective opens for us. Take hold of Jesus, my friend. He is there…waiting. He will change you, and your life will never be the same.

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