Aswan, Egypt – Spring 2007
I’m sitting in the long, narrow kitchen of our apartment by the Nile, weeping. I’m leaning against the marble table top, holding my head, drenching my shirt in tears and snot. The pain in my chest is intense, in my stomach, in my gut – I’m doubled-over, gasping for air through the sobs. I’ve been struck by a realization, a terrible insight. A wail rises up through me as the thought becomes so obvious it’s inescapable: I’ve married my father and my grandfather, the two men by whom I never felt seen, or heard or loved. I’ve been chasing them through this man, my husband, and this has not led to healing or to resolution but rather a trick and a trap in which I’m ever yearning, ever trying to prove myself, ever sacrificing myself to someone who does not value me.
After almost 9 years together, what brought on this insight?
The abuse had been emotional, manipulative and mixed with praise and neediness until one night when I spat out what I was really thinking for once and he came at me, cornering me in that same small kitchen. Mostly I was numb, accustomed to my sadness, my emotional pain and shame – but this rush at me, this yelling in my face scared me deeply. I tried to push past him, to get to the living room where I could get some distance between us. He blocked the doorway. I continued to wriggle and tried to find a way through when he grabbed me by my hair. I was beyond thought. I grabbed his equally long hair and we tumbled to the ground and rolled around on the carpets in the living room until he pinned me down. Neither of us was really hurt; our tussle reminded me of little kids, ineffective and pathetic, only we were not children.
And instinctively in that instant I knew I had to leave.
There was no reason to think things wouldn’t get worse. He called me stupid everyday. He ignored me when I told him he was hurting me during sex. Nothing I did pleased him. No one would come if I screamed. No one in my building or my community in Aswan would help me leave if I started showing up with bruises. I was on my own and I had to act.
Why did I stay? Because I believed him when he said leaving made me selfish, disloyal, a user and abuser just like the US herself.
Because I believed that God, his angry, obedience demanding God, wanted me to stay, would judge me and maybe punish me for leaving.
Because he fulfilled a pattern set in childhood, an echo of my raging father, my dismissive grandfather – wounds not yet healed.
Because I believed that leaving meant I was a failure, a looser, a bad person.
Why did I stay? Because I didn’t value myself. I yearned for his approval, his praise, his love – for this external validation despite the fact that it came at the cost of my own voice, my own self-hood.
I still believed most of those things when I left and it took the support of an amazing counselor to help me fully explore why I’d chosen him and why I’d stayed and to heal those wounds so that I could attract and love my soul-mate – which I did a mere 6 months after leaving.
What I learned:
True love doesn’t hurt, doesn’t diminish and punish.
True love starts from the inside, from me and radiates out into the world where I can then meet it again through others.
True love amplifies, supports and uplifts.
My experiences make me passionate about helping others. If you’re ready for support in stepping away from abuse, I am here for you.
If you’re not ready yet, I am still here for you. And ask yourself when will you be ready, what is it going to take for you to walk away? Insults? More insults? Bruises? More bruises?
It is my wish that if you are suffering in an abusive relationship, you read this story and know that it is your story too. Difficult as it is, there is healing and love on the other side of the decision to leave.
May you rally your courage and get the support you need and deserve to step into the love that awaits you. I await you. Join me.