“Welcome. Nice to see you. It’s been a few weeks,” Greg greeted me. “What’s going on with Hope today?” The couch in his office didn’t feel inviting like it normally did. The wooden frame dug into the back of my knees, the coarse fabric scratching the back of my calves just below the edge of my capris. “Make yourself at home,” he encouraged, noting my discomfort.
I perched on the edge of my seat, erect and alert. You might as well be direct. He’ll see right through you. Just come out and say it, I sighed. “I’ve decided to leave Brad.” There. Done. Can’t take it back now. “He doesn’t know it, but my decision is final,” I added. Greg raised an eyebrow. “Yes, I’m serious. I’m just getting the details together first, so Calleigh and I can get out safe.”
I could tell Greg sensed the gravity of my decision. “I see. What brought about this resolution?”
“Honestly?” I pursed my lips. “Brad’s anger got so bad a few days ago he almost caused me physical harm.” I shuddered, reliving the terror in my mind. “I promised God if He got me out of that moment alive, Calleigh would never grow up thinking what she saw was normal. His rage was so severe, he didn’t even care that she was in the room. Calleigh witnessed everything. He was seconds away from bashing my head into the kitchen wall when she screamed. Her piercing cry most likely saved my life.”
“Wow! That’s intense,” Greg validated. “Has he been displaying any other extreme or odd behaviors?”
I nodded, not having to think twice. “In the middle of his lies and twisted truths, I discovered he was prescribed oxycodone for some mystery backache he claims to have. He’s never injured himself or complained about it before. It sounds made up.” I exhaled slowly. “Whether it is or not, I found a stash of oxy under our bathroom sink in a place he thought I’d never look.”
“So, he’s being secretive,” Greg noted.
“Yes,” I answered. “Shortly after I found his prescription, the extreme highs and lows started: happiness bordering on the brink of delirium, touching everyone and everything around him, complimenting me on my looks and verbalizing how attracted he was to me. He began craving sex every hour of the day—not able to get enough of me one moment then not being able to stand the sight of me the next. Profanity and temper tantrums ensued when his demands weren’t met two seconds after he’d order a command. His erratic movements made me fear he was going to throw something, but he never did. When he didn’t get his way, he’d storm from the room, isolating himself for hours in one of the back bedrooms. Wicked headaches have been controlling his waking hours, so Calleigh and I walk on eggshells whenever he’s home. We don’t miss him when he’s at work because his presence instills fear.” I lowered my eyes, embarrassed by my words. “I’m no doctor, but I don’t think he’s taking the meds like they were prescribed.”
“Kind of sounds that way,” Greg agreed. “What else has happened?”
“Last weekend, Brad swore he was fine, but I had serious doubts. Everything about him was…off. I didn’t realize how off, though, until we got in the car. He barked for me to give him the keys, insisting he was going to drive us to church. Since I didn’t want a fight, I caved.”
“Understandable. But?” Greg waited for my answer.
“But, I’ve never been so scared of riding with anyone in my life!”
Greg gave me his undivided attention. “Why’s that?”
“He couldn’t keep the car straight to save his life. I can’t tell you how many cars we almost hit when he crossed the yellow line, swerving into oncoming traffic.” I cringed, remembering the danger. “We should’ve been pulled over. I begged God to send us help! But, as luck would have it, there wasn’t a single police officer patrolling our route.”
Greg tilted his head, eyeing me with curiosity. “Did you voice your concern to Brad?”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “I even asked him to pull over so I could drive, but he kept insisting he was fine, cursing at me to shut my big trap and stop nagging him. By his account, I was ‘exaggerating and making stuff up,’ and he didn’t want to hear it.” I exhaled sadness. “Since there was nothing I could do, I prayed for God to lend us His mercy and protection, despite Brad’s recklessness and careless behavior. Why should Calleigh and I be punished for Brad’s poor decision making?”
Greg offered an empathetic grin. “Looks like He heard you and granted your request.”
“Yeah. This time,” I shrugged.
“Do I hear something more in there?” Greg prodded.
“Yeah. During church, Brad kept nodding off. I nudged him several times to prevent his snoring from interrupting the pastor’s sermon. So embarrassing! No amount of poking him in the ribs could keep him awake. Later on, when it was time to head home, he didn’t even try arguing with me when I asked for the keys. He was too doped up to keep his eyes open or even care.” I sighed. “I can’t believe this is my life. It feels surreal.”
“I get that.” Greg pressed his lips together, clasping his hands together in his lap.
“But that’s only part of it,” I inserted. “The other day, Julia stopped by and hung out at our house for a few hours. When she first arrived, Brad got all giddy, insisting she see his new poker chips.” Greg scrunched his forehead. “Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. You would’ve thought he was an eight-year-old child at Christmastime. Julia humored him, oohing and aahing—basically, bolstering his ego. It made him happy. But this is where it gets crazy. After putting the game away, going into our bedroom and taking a nap for a couple hours, Brad came out and started talking to Julia again, asking if she wanted to see his new poker chips. He had no memory of already showing them to her. That. Same. Day!”
Greg’s brow furrowed. “That is odd, but not so much if drugs were altering his perceptions,” he conceded.
“True. It’s still very unsettling, though,” I answered. “If that wasn’t bad enough, we’re now being subjected to all kinds of paranoia. The world’s out to get him, ya know?”
“Paranoia?” Greg’s interest piqued.
“Yeah. Brad carried on for at least ten minutes the other day, making sure I knew that no one was going to mess with his Second Amendment rights. The government wants to dictate his life, and his civil liberties are being taken away or infringed upon. It was during this rant that I learned he had gone and bought an AK-47.”
“An assault rifle?” Greg confirmed, the pitch of his voice changing.
“Yeah. I know, right? I didn’t even ask why. I just wanted to know, ‘With what money?’ Where did he come up with almost $1,000? We can’t afford to buy food to eat. We’ve even resorted to using food stamps. Yet, he finds money for a gun? How is that more important than feeding your family? I don’t get it.” Angry tears welled up in my eyes as I shook my head with profuse confusion. “None of it makes sense.”
“Of course, it doesn’t. You can’t make sense out of nonsense,” Greg replied. He cleared his throat, licking his lips. “Since I’ve never personally met with Brad, I can’t technically diagnose his condition; but, going strictly by what you’ve shared, you’re not wrong for questioning his actions and being concerned about his motives and what might transpire in the future. A healthy awareness is what will keep you safe.” He nodded.
“I don’t know what to believe any more. Even in his altered state, he could sell water to fish.” I rolled my eyes.
“That charming, huh?” Greg grinned.
“Yeah, he’s even good at making you question common sense. Just look at me. For more than a year, I believed we had no money. If I had stopped for two seconds and asked to see a rundown of our finances against our financial obligations, something would’ve clearly been off. I’m not stupid. All the red flags were there, but I lived with my head in the sand, so I didn’t have to see them or acknowledge them. I can’t do that any more.”
“What kind of red flags?” Greg probed.
“Receipts for fancy dinners. Multiple movie theater stubs that didn’t include movies seen with Calleigh or me.” I chuckled. “Can’t tell you the last time we had a date night.” I pondered the situation. “Let’s see…there were also gas expenses at stations all over Florida,” I added. “He doesn’t have a job that requires traveling. That’s what probably made me the most suspicious. I didn’t have to go digging, either. It was all right there on our bank statements and on his desk.”
“Interesting.” Greg stroked his chin.
“It makes me sick to think about it. Fragmented pieces of my life are starting to come into focus, but I’m not sure what I’m seeing. All I know is my reality is far from what I thought it was. I’ve been played, and he knew exactly what he was doing. I can’t believe I’m so stupid!”
“Not stupid. Trusting,” Greg modified my definition. “This one’s on Brad. You did what any normal, loving spouse would do. You believed in your husband and his honesty in interacting with you. You had every right to take him at face value and assume his answers were legit. No one goes around wondering if they’re married to a pathological liar. That’s not normal or healthy. Believe me. Brad broke a sacred trust, and that is a big deal. Everyone involved will feel the consequences, not just you.”
“Kind of like Newton’s third law: to every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction?” I responded, applying what I remembered of science class.
“Something like that, but on an emotional level,” Greg agreed. Leaning back in his chair, he delved into my new insight. “So, tell me. Now that you’re seeing things a little more clearly, what have you given up to be in this relationship with Brad? What has it cost you?”
I toyed with my hands, shame enveloping my answer. “Dignity. Self-respect. Friends and a teaching career. Overall sanity.”
“Has it been worth it?” Greg’s nonjudgmental tone caused me to look up.
“In the beginning, maybe. Now? Not so much. No one deserves the abuse Calleigh and I have been going through.”
“You’re right,” Greg agreed. Reading my body language, he pressed forward. “Hope, what aren’t you saying? You look like you have something very heavy weighing on your heart.”
I laced my fingers together and inhaled slowly. “Last night on the news, they covered a story out of Volusia County. It was about a mom and her two kids. They’re missing but presumed dead.” A shudder ran up my spine.
“I think I recall hearing about that,” Greg acknowledged. “How does that pertain to you?”
I swallowed the rising lump in my throat, daring to confront my truth. “That could be me. Her story could be mine. An argument that goes too far. Brad’s anger snuffing the life out of us. Calleigh and I could be the ones who end up dead. My family could be the ones crying on the evening news.” Tears ran down my face. “I don’t want that for us. We deserve better. I don’t want to throw my marriage away; but, if I stay, I just know that I’m guaranteeing a horrendous ending.”
“I know that’s hard to admit, but I’m glad you can see the seriousness of your situation,” Greg responded. “The importance of your decisions moving forward and the heaviness of the responsibility you bear in taking care of yourself and Calleigh right now is real, and it can be scary. The unknown leaves a lot of questions that need to be dealt with, but one question you should never have is whether or not you’re safe. You deserve that peace of mind.”
“Guess that means I should probably make sure Brad’s guns are out of the house before I let him know I’m leaving, huh?” I laughed to cover my nerves.
“That’d be one less thing you’d have to worry about,” Greg answered. “People can do extreme and out-of-the-ordinary things when they start losing control, and you’re about to turn Brad’s life upside down. There’s no saying what he may or may not do.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of.” I thumbed the palm lines of my hands. “This is really going to tick him off.”
“It may not be easy, but it’s the right thing to do,” Greg verified. “You’re a strong and courageous woman. Maybe one of the strongest I’ve ever known. That’s how I know you can do this.” He looked me in the eyes, connecting on a deeper level. “You have all the strength inside you that you need to see this through. Keep reminding yourself of that. Don’t give away a better tomorrow over the struggles you’re dealing with today. It will get better, but you can’t give up.”
I forced a grin. “It’s not in my nature to.”
“I know.” Greg tore off a couple pieces of paper from his notepad and handed them to me, along with a clipboard and pen. “While your feelings are still raw and your focus is sharp, I want you to write down what you want Calleigh to grow up believing. When everything is said and done, what do you want her to learn from this experience? This is going to be just as much her story as it is yours. So, what advice would you give her if she were picking out someone to spend the rest of her life with? What have you learned that you would like to pass along to her? Take your time.”
Tears dripped from my chin as I started to write:
My dearest Calleigh-bug,
IF I COULD…
I would look into your eyes and remind you:
You are God’s masterpiece.
Nothing about you is broken.
You deserve to be loved,
and with a kind of love that values every part of who you are—
idiosyncrasies and all.
I would also make sure you knew:
When it’s right, you’ll know it’s right.
All the pieces will fall into place—
all the way down to the very air you breathe.
You won’t have to force it,
manipulate it, try to fix it,
or ever wonder if you’re making the right decision.
You will know that this is the person
who you’re supposed to be with.
He will become your best friend
and someone you can’t imagine living without.
When you succeed, he’s the first person
you will want to share your excitement with.
When there’s sadness in your life,
he’s the first one you will want to reach out to for comfort.
Your tears will be his tears.
Your joy will be his very own.
He will never try to make you feel like less of a person
so he can feel like he is more.
Because of his relationship with God,
this special person in your life will respect you—
body, mind, and soul—
and he will challenge you to become a better person,
because that’s what loves does.
Don’t ever mistake somebody’s earthly desire for you
as a Godly relationship.
Strong and secure friendships take time to build…
and they will always withstand time and testing.
If he is worth your time, you are worth his wait.
I would also encourage you not to settle—
even if that means remaining alone.
Nothing is lonelier in this life than being unequally yoked
or with someone God has not ordained for your life.
You deserve better than that. Make sure you get it.
Just because you can relate to someone’s past or pain
doesn’t mean they were designed to be part of your future.
When you’re deciding on accepting someone into your
most personal space—whether that be emotional, mental,
spiritual or physical—make sure that person has earned your trust.
Authenticity is an invaluable trait
and the only way you’ll ever feel safe in sharing your life.
Don’t rush ahead of God
or underestimate the power of His divine plan.
He sees you.
He knows you.
He will never abandon you.
He only wants what’s best for you.
Your best interest is always in the forefront of His mind.
You never have to question that,
because His love is pure.
You don’t ever have to be somebody you’re not.
You are enough—Just. As. You. Are.
If doubts creep in and emotions blur your reasoning,
refer back to God and find your value and worth in Him.
Don’t ever allow another person to define you.
They are human beings and flawed, too.
Only God’s definition of you matters.
I wish, more than life itself,
that I could take away your confusion and frustration
and minimize the heartache and anxiety the unknown holds.
I would take it away if I could.
But, since I can’t,
know that I have placed you in the very capable hands
of the One I know who can.
Trust Him always.
Rest in Him faithfully and frequently.
And know that your life matters.
You are never alone.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
“…and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Matthew 28:20 KJV
And, with that, the beginning of walking away from abuse began.