Abuse Recovery Ministries & Services

I know that not everyone identifies as a Christian and I understand that, often, women who have experienced different kinds of abuse, especially those who are married and attend Christian churches or are members of certain Christian denominations, may have very tragic and distorted histories with the way the Bible has been taught and how they may have been treated or admonished to stay in relationship with their abusers. As a matter of fact, this has frequently been a way where women who have been physically, sexually, mentally, and emotionally victimized by their abusers may also have experienced a form of abuse known as spiritual abuse.

In our modern society where so many people of faith hold firm positions on matters such as marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose what happens with her body, even if she is pregnant and the expression of these positions is done in loud and vociferous ways with messages of hate and hell, spiritual abuse can happen indirectly, causing those who have suffered at the hands of human men and women who do not have a connection to a faith community, the Bible, God, or Christ and wind up taking paths and making choices which are at odds with biblical principles and values to experience spiritual abuse through the witnessing of vitriol and hate messages publicly displayed and declared as spiritual truth.

Although I consider myself a Christian, I am uneasy with my faith much of the time and am still working through my understanding and beliefs about who God is and His character. Some might even consider me a heretic and misguided because I have doubts about doctrine and teachings regarding hell, condemnation, and God’s views on wickedness and sin. This means that I have a tendency to be somewhat cynical and suspicious when encountering many ministries which are in place to assist people who are often marginalized and treated as victims in our society.

The thing that I’ve been realizing though, as I learn more about myself and my responses to how I’ve been abused in my past, long before anything that was experienced in the almost 18 year toxically codependent relationship which has had a lot of similarities to Domestic Violence relationships in its outcomes, and how I’ve become the person I have been, is that I never had a healthy picture of parents or adults, therefore I also never developed a healthy picture of who God is and what His character is like. I’m not alone in this.

As children, we form our first sense of self and identity from the adults and caregivers in our lives. We also come to understand God, His character, His will, and His role in our lives from these early, foundational relationships and how they are formed. This informs our continued development of personal and individual identity. When we grow up without a healthy picture of God and other people, especially caregivers and people in authority in our lives, we wind up without healthy and constructive pictures of what healthy and constructive adult relationships look like. This then becomes foundational and instrumental tothe kinds of relationships we develop and maintain.

Now that I am transitioning from toxic codependency with a person whose personal identity and sense of personhood is as damaged and distorted as my own has been, it is important that I learn what healthy, functional, and constructive looks like in order for me to learn how be be healthy, functional, and constructive. I need to learn what it looks like spiritually regarding God and His character, because that is the filter which guides and informs my own personal sense of identity.

Being in a Her Journey group through Abuse Recovery Ministries and Services is teaching me this. There may be some doctrinal issues that may arise which I am uncomfortable with. However, the purpose of this group is not to discuss or debate doctrine or theology. It’s purpose is to rebuild a healthy, constructive, and functional picture of God, His character, and how He views and loves His children, specifically those who have been abused and who have deveolped a distorted sense of self and a distorted understanding of God’s person, character, and will.

This class and group may not be for everyone, or it may not be within every person’s comfort zone. However, whether you are a Christian or not, whether you believe in a diety or many dieties or none at all, coming into the room and experiencing first hand the love, acceptance, and constructive teaching about the fact that we are meant to be loved and are intended for a life and a purpose other than to serve as another person’s physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and/or spiritual punching bag and garbage receptacle for all their bad moods and problems, is a good thing to hear and learn about.

There are twelve classes covering many topics including boundaries and other things which may not seem to be spiritual in their focus, but have critical spiritual components. These classes are free and can be taken as often as needed. There is a camaraderie from engaging with other women who are going through their own journeys of healing and growth.

If you have a different spiritual background and perspective from Christianity, the principles of God’s character and the kind of life He wants someone coming out of abuse to grow in are still valid and valuable teachings which can have concrete life application. Take what you need, what serves you, and leave the rest behind.

Home Free: A Child Advocacy and Parent Support Service for Families

In my first post for the first month of this new year, I shared my story by offering readers A look at Domestic Violence. I gave an overview of my personal history and the struggles that my family and I have experienced, which have been clearly identified by others as Domestic Violence. “Others” being my now adult children, friends and acquaintances, and various professions/service providers over the years. Yet, I’ve always struggled with the labels, categorizations, and definitions which are associated with the words: Domestic Violence.

In Changing Perceptions, I asked several questions about what comes to mind for you when you read or hear the words Domestic Violence. If you’re anything like me, you may think of a manipulative, control-freak, who is on a massive power trip, and truly enjoys the systematic destruction and subjugation of the ego and personal identity of the partner in the relationship. You know, the sociopathic stalkers in movies like Sleeping With the Enemy and Enough.

According to the Parenting Support Advocate with the VOA Home Free program I met with, it takes an average of seven attempts for a person who has experienced Domestic Violence to leave the abusive relationship permanently. “Average” meaning that there are those who may have done so successfully the first try and others who had to make many more attempts, combine all of the reported efforts and divide by the number of people who were queried in the research and that’s the average number.

I shared with her how uncomfortable I have been with the DV label and it’s associated titles/roles: Batterer, Abuser, Victim, Surviver, Perpetrator, Willing Participant. I’m not uncomfortable with or opposed to them when they are applied to situations and circumstances with clear-cut physical and verbal abuse where the one party physically harms and/or uses verbal threats, violent language, and uses his or her body and words in a way to diminish and control the other party. It’s the situations and circumstances like the one I have been in where the actions and behaviors of the “abuser” are more likely the result of a combination of neurological/cognitive developmental delays which are less than obvious in combination with some unidentified & untreated mental health issues, which may be a combination of genetics and environmental factors present during the developmental years of infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Especially when that person has made the effort to grow and change through participation in therapuetic processes.

The outcomes may be similar, if not identical. Which is why it is so often met with the overly simplistic method of categorization, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . . ”

I’m a very firm believer in, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

The representative from the Home Free program has been very constructive for me to speak to, interact with, and learn from. She has not informed me of her view and take of my situation and circumstances. She hasn’t tried to convince me why I should use or accept these labels or define what I have experienced as Domestic Violence. She has listened with clear intention to understand me and my experiences. She has not given me “knowing” looks or sly glances when I have spoken about the difficulties I have with the labels which are part and parcel of receiving services through the domestic violence resources and systems. She has reassured me that I am the expert on my life and on my relationships and that she is here as an Advocate for me, not as a therapist, counselor, or other service provider.

When we met for the second time, yesterday, it was in my home. She and I met in the living room while the Child Advocate met with my five year old daughter and they played together in her room full of toys. The Child Advocate is not a play therapist, but her role is to be present and engaged with the child, following the child’s lead during play and interaction. If the child brings up emotions or thoughts which are difficult or confusing regarding anything the child has witnessed or experienced, whether it is related to the relationship issues between the partners in the domestic violence relationship or anything else, then the Child Advocate’s task it to help the child talk through and process those thoughts and feelings in healthy and constructive ways, understanding that he/she is not in any way responsible for any of the things which have happened or responsible for the feelings and words of others.

Historically, I have not done a great job at seeing and understanding when my children were experiencing difficulties in how they were perceiving and internalizing those perceptions regarding the things I was dealing with in our lives together. Dealing with the cycles of depression and hypomania, being severely codependent, and not having processed and dealt with my own emotional and psychological trauma from childhood all blinded and deafened me to the things my two oldest children were struggling with. I did the best I could to get them help and services, connect them to others who seemed more knowledgeable or better qualified than myself, to help them. However, I wasn’t emotionally or psychologically present and available to help them as their mother. I’m determined to do better by their youngest sibling.

That is why I’m so grateful to the Home Free program and the people I am working with in it. They are not only able to see and advocate for what my littlest is experiencing, they are here to help me see and advocate for her as well.

Volunteers of America Home Free Program

Emergency Hotline: (503) 771-5503 (Mon – Fri, 8AM – 6PM)

Business Line: (503) 239-3929

“Home Free’s mission is to assist adults and children surviving domestic violence to move not just toward safety, but toward freedom and all that the word home suggests.

Our programs provide long-term, post-crisis support designed to prevent victims from having to return to an abusive home. Our commitment to reaching survivors means mobile, active advocacy that reduces the barriers to domestic violence support services. All of our services are free, flexible, and individualized, and driven by survivors’ needs and goals.”

Changing Perceptions

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term, Domestic Violence?

Is it Sleeping with the Enemy with Julia Roberts?

or the JLo movie, Enough?

Is it sensationalized headlines in local and national news media?

USA Today: Domestic Violence On the Job: Prepare for the Worst in Your Workplace

Portland’s 2013 homicide list: Domestic disputes, fights outside bars, gang shootings

What comes to mind when you hear the terms: Batterer, Abuser, Perpertrator? Is it all the various actors and actresses portraying soulless, remorseless, sociopathic, and psychopathic killers without a conscience? Is it the Pimp, the Drug Lord, the Alcoholic/Addict?

Who do you see when you think of a DV victim? Do you see the mousy, brow-beaten, kowtowing figure of a modern hausfrau? Does she look like someone you know?

What are your feelings about these images and notions of the kind of people who are involved in Domestic Violence? He’s bad? He’s evil? She’s weak? She brings it on herself? They’re both nuts, they deserve each other? What’s WRONG with them?

What if I were to tell you that these are some of the contributing factors to me staying and returning to my almost 18 year toxic and dysfunctional relationship? What if there are others, like myself and my relational partner, who don’t fit into these dirty, neat little boxes? What if, when we have tried to reach out, because our stories didn’t look or sound like these, we were dismissed, scoffed at, and scorned? What if we saw some of the things that fit, but they didn’t quite fit, and there were other things going on, like mental and physical illnesses, which we didn’t realize or understand are often part of the larger picture around Domestic Violence? What if we only thought we could get help if there was an actual crime?

What if these movies, headlines, and notions are true, but incomplete representations of what abuse means, what it is, what it looks like, and how it impacts the lives of the people experiencing in, whichever side they may be on?

I had an amazing conversation yesterday with Davonna Livingston, author of “Voices Behind the Razorwire” and founder of Changing Perceptions, “an organization dedicated to working with anyone who has been affected by abuse.”

Changing Perceptions is a nonprofit organization that utilizes peer-based support and a writing curriculum to provide measurable outcomes for victims of abuse and neglect. The program focuses on helping victims of abuse regain their feelings of control by encouraging them to stop thinking of themselves as victims and to begin to live their lives as survivors.
This transformation begins with having their experience validated and given a purpose.

I’m meeting with her in a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to it. I’m actually feeing excited, like something really big is about to happen from this. We’ll see.

In the meantime, if you or anyone you know hase experienced abuse or neglect, as a child or as an adult, consider exploring and sharing this resource as a tool for healing.

Recovery Resources for Healing, Growth, and Wellbeing

In yesterday’s post on Domestic Violence, I provided a couple of links to resources someone who is experiencing or has experienced Domestic Violence can access as part of their healing and recovery processes. The fact of the matter is that even if we aren’t in a relationship where Domestic Violence is present, we may still be in a relationship where there is major dysfunction happening, in any number of ways. If we are in a relationship with someone who experiences compulsive or addictive behaviors, or if we experience them ourselves, there is dysfunction which could create the same effects in our lives as if we were in a Domestic Violence relationship: Isolation, Loss of Identity, and Cycles of Abuse.

Cycle of Abuse image obtained from the University of Tennesee, Knoxville, Division of Student Life's Safety, Environment, and Education Center page on Relationship Violence

Cycle of Abuse image obtained from the University of Tennesee, Knoxville, Division of Student Life’s Safety, Environment, and Education Center page on Relationship Violence

I have come to recognize and realize that I have compulsive behaviors and tendencies in my relationships with others and in my relationship with food. These behaviors and tendencies are directly linked to the chronic depression I have experienced since adolescence and possibly earlier. This means that when I entered into the relationship I’m in the process of changing, almost 18 years ago, I brought in thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and experiences which contributed to the dysfunctions and the damage to myself and others from being in the relationship.

In order to heal and become more functional as an individual and as a mother, as a friend and co-worker, or any other relational role I will take on or find myself in, I have to take ownership of MY part and process. I have to let go of fear. I have to stop focusing on the other person(s) in whatever relationship I may be experiencing difficulty in.

I am a codependent. I am a compulsive over/undereater. I am a perfectionist who gets immobilized by the reality and truth that I will never be perfect or be able to do the things I want to do perfectly.

All of these things have played into and enabled the isolation, the conflict, the tension, and the difficulties in all of my important relationships. Being able to recognize and admit these things is just the beginning of the journey.

Therapy is needed, for sure. However, experience has taught me that therapy alone is not the solution. Gathering information and learning about these issues is helpful, but, again, it is not going to create the change which is needed. Self-will and self-determination have not worked either. I know because I’ve spent more than two decades trying to help myself and help those around me into being better, doing better, and very little has improved. In fact, sitting at my computer after having spent both Christmas and New Year’s Eve alone, with poor physical and mental health, no income of my own, no family around to celebrate with, and the majority of my friendships being virtually sustained and maintained via my keyboard and computer screen, I can honestly say that it’s a miracle things aren’t worse than they are.

It’s time to return to The Twelve Steps of Recovery.

Whether the issue is Alcohol, Illegal Substances, Gambling, Shopping, Hoarding, Clutter, Sex/Relationship Addiction, Food Addiction/Eating Disorders or any other compulsive, obsessive, addictive behavior, there’s a group for that! There are local, face-to-face meetings, online meetings, and telephone meetings.

These are peer-led, peer-supported programs operated and served by people who have personally experienced the things which make our lives unmanageable. These are people who have learned a new way of thinking, of doing, of being. They’ve done so with the help and support of others. A majority of them have experienced healing, growth, and recovery as they have come to understand and surrender to a Higher Power. Others have difficulty with the Higher Power/God aspect of most Twelve Step Recovery programs and have established alternatives.

Here is an excellent online resource for those who are beginning to explore the Twelve Steps:

12Step.org ~ This is a comprehensive website dedicated to providing information and resources about the Twelve Steps and supporting those seeking “freedom from addictive behaviors.” Visitors to the site will find the following:

    • The Steps – a comprehensive look at each of the Twelve Steps, which have been generically adapted from the original 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
    • Meetings – a page offering brief explanations of face-to-face and online meetings with links to resources for locating meetings.
    • References – a page providing an overview of sources for the Twelve Step Recovery process.
    • Tools – worksheets, workbooks, and other tools that can be helpful to someone starting to work through the steps
    • Journal – free, downloadable desktop software for Windows XP, Vista, & 7; Mac OSX version 10.4, 10.5 and 10.6
    • Directory – search for Twelve Step resources by a variety of ways: Addiction, Approach, Non-English and many other options
    • Social – an opportunity to engage in their forum for those in recovery

The thing I’m learning to remember is that there are at least two people in a dysfunctional relationship. Both people are part of the dysfunction. Both people need to seek their own path to healing, growth, and recovery.

If your partner or spouse, friend, child, or parent is an abuser of substances or one who is engaged in compulsive/obsessive behaviors and/or addictions, that person is responsible for seeking his or her own process, or not. You can’t force it or coerce it. If you are experiencing distress because of their choices and actions, you are responsible for choosing to live with it, leave it, work with it, or whatever you do. They are not responsible for easing your distress or creating your happiness . . . you are. So, figure out what you need to do, then do it. Easier said than done, I know, because I’m in it right now and it’s a struggle. But, I have hope that the struggle is worth the outcome.

A look at Domestic Violence

I’ve been in a long-term, emotionally toxic and co-dependent relationship with someone since we met and started dating in February of 1996. We have separated several times, throughout the years, only to wind up back in relationship with each other, primarily because one or the other of us went against our better judgment, in that moment, and slid the slippery slope of emotional dysfunction to wind up back together.

I was a single mom of two, in search of a man who was a Christian, not into drugs and alcohol, who would love and accept my children as much as he did me. I wanted a man who was connected to his family. I didn’t know I needed to expand that list to include someone with healthy boundaries, since I had no clue what those were myself. It didn’t occur to me that I should not just look for someone who shared the religious label, but someone who could reason, discuss, and converse about the complexities of beliefs and values and how to walk those out in our daily lives. After all, I was fairly new to faith and belief in God, since I’d only had brief and sporadic dealings with various Christian communities. It never occurred to me that it was possible to be overly connected and enmeshed in a dysfunctional family system. I had grown up as the only child of a single mom and my family connections were so disconnected and dysfunctional that I didn’t recongize or understand that toxic dysfunction exists inside of whole, suburban, families of “good” Christians as well as in the dispersed and disconnected families of lowly sinners.

I guess, somewhere deep inside of myself, I’ve always kind of believed that, even if things weren’t my fault, I was still the one responsible for how bad things were.

In our early years, during my late 20’s and his early 30’s, we were passionate and verbally volatile, both of us vying for dominance and control. We would get into tug of war matches over petty, stupid things like who got the remote control because I wanted the television off to get to sleep and he needed it on, with the volume loud in order to unwind enough to get to sleep. I was verbally and intellectually cutting and belittling. He reacted with harsh, angry words and the physical intimidation of throwing things, slamming doors, and the like.

He only ever hit me one time.

We’d only known each other three and a half months. He’d moved in with me and my kids within two months of us meeting. It was after the first time we split up. It was the end of the first week of our separation. It was my 27th birthday. I can’t remember what he’d come by for or what we were talking about. I’m sure I said something triggering, it was kind of a specialty of mine at the time. He slapped me. My kids were in the bedroom, but my son had a view through the short hallway between where we were, in the kitchen, and between where he was with his baby sister.

Somehow, we were back in relationship with each other before Winter that year.

I say, somehow, because I never have understood why I kept getting back in relationship with him. I didn’t realize that in the deepest levels of myself that there exists a belief that this is the kind of relationship I deserve and that he is the only one who will have me. I don’t believe he has ever said those words to me himself.

He has his flaws: anger management, impulse control, emotional neediness/clinginess, a seeming inability to accept personal responsibility for his own choices, words, and actions, among other things. Out of these things have come a lot of the behavior which has contributed to an atmosphere of tension, conflict, and chaos. There is definitely emotional manipulation, but it’s more on the level of the manipulations of an out of control child throwing a tantrum in the middle of the store to get mom to give in and give him what he wants, rather than the manipulations of a man who enjoys seeing the people around him cower in fear.

I didn’t have boundaries and neither did he. Over the years, as my depression grew and the physical symptoms of the depression intermingled with the ones from my fibromyalgia, I did so many things to fix us, him mostly. Even as I identified his anger as a symptom of possible undiagnosed mental health and cognitive impairments, I failed to recongize my own need for emotional and psychological healing. I pushed and prodded him to participate in various therapies, counseling, and classes with me, by himself, and with the kids, never really investing in my own process and just getting frustrated and upset that he wasn’t doing what I felt needed to be done.

Throughout it all, bickering, yelling, arguing about finances and how to parent my kids, kept our home in constant confict and tension. My children were acting out at school, at home, at church. He was the loud, angry, authoritarian, I became the placater, the one who caved and soothed the overly harsh treatment of my kids. By the time my son was 16 and my daughter was 9, there had been so much dysfunction, disruption, and chaos that my son went to live with another family because he didn’t feel “emotionally safe” living with us.

Still I stayed or returned to being in relationship with him.

Same patterns, same conflict, same chaos. I kept trying to fix, heal, mend, trust. I just enabled. I was on the verge of trying to break free again, when, after 12 years of being in relationship with each other, I found out I was pregnant.

In the past five years I have tried to do everything I could do to raise our daughter in a home with both her parents. The same arguments, the same conflicts, the same tensions, amplified because now it isn’t simply MY children involved, it’s HIS daughter.

All the shame and blame of all the things I did to him in our past continually and constantly eat away at him. My, now adult, daughter and her boyfriend were living with us and not making the best choices. I was enabling them all, it seems. Continually simmering tension kept boiling over into verbal conflict, until one night, a little over three weeks ago, on our daughter’s fifth birthday, a raging conflict between the three of them erupted, causing our daughter to be terrified.

I left again, three days after the conflict . . . after my oldest daughter and her boyfriend moved out.

I met with an acquaintance from church who reached out to me to offer her friendship and support. During that meeting, at her workplace, we talked about a lot of things and some realizations have been being made ever since.

First, Domestic Violence, isn’t just one thing. It isn’t cut and dried. It isn’t the worst of the worst, the way it’s portrayed in media. I have been resistant, and continue to be resistant, of the DV label for what we’ve gone through in our relationship. Partly because I’ve always believed that in order for something to be classified as Domestic Violence, it has to be intended as such. Like rape and murder are classified as such because of the underlying intent.

Second, people with unidentified and untreated mental and emotional disorders and illnesses can be perpetrators of Domestic Violence, even if they are unaware that their words and actions fall into the category of Domestic Violence.

Third, regardless of the type of Domestic Violence or how it manifests in individual relationships and lives the outcomes fall on the same spectrum:

  • Isolation: There is a loss and breakdown of relationships with others not in the closed system, especially for the “victim.”
  • Loss of identity: The “victim” in the relationship loses all sense of independent, personal identity that is not connected with the abuser.
  • Cyclical patterns of repetition: Honeymoon, build up, conflict – over and over and over again. Sometimes increasing in intensity, frequency, and escalation of the kind of abusive behavior, but not always.

I’m still learning about what DV is. I’m definitely still learning about the role I have played in this relationship. I’m now aware of the things I brought with me into the relationship which have played into the problems we have had together. However, I’m also learning that I don’t have to continue playing into it. I now realize and understand I need support and help to make the changes for me to be healthier and to raise our daughter to be healthier.

One agency that is helping me to do this is The Gateway Center for Domestic Violence Services. It is a centrally located hub for families who have experienced domestic violence to connect with resources to help them be safe, take care of legal issues, and receive therapeutic services for themselves and their children.

  • Abuse Recovery Ministry and Services (ARMS) has a lay minister who is available for prayer and spiritual support from a Bibilical-based, Christian perspective and has a weekly class/support group called Her Journey, “a series of (15) classes designed to help women walk through their healing from domestic violence and abuse.”
  • Lifeworks NW offers Support Counseling Services for Survivors through one-to-one counseling sessions and offers a twelve week Seeking Safety therapeutic group It is “a therapy for trauma, substance abuse, and/or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”
  • Home Free, Volunteers of America, Child/Youth and Family Services can be accessed through the center. They offer Parenting Support, Kids groups & classes, connection to a Child Advocate, and services to Teens.

There are many other services and supportive community connections which are accessible through The Gateway Center. The various community partners and staff I have encountered there have been compassionate, respectful, and committed to helping the individuals seeking services to heal, grow, and transform themselves in healthy and constructive ways.