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Valentine’s Message: Grief & Abuse

I hope you aren’t trying to navigate grief while enduring abuse. Each is problematic all by itself. Compounded, the mind can spin into a tangle that feels impossible to unwind.

Perhaps you’re bracing for Valentine’s Day. Special occasions nip at those who’ve lost a loved one – and, gosh, Valentine’s celebrates love. But if you’re dealing with domestic violence, the question is whether you will be celebrated or maligned – or both.

I’ve never been physically abused, but I was emotionally abused after my daddy’s death. I was in a vulnerable state. In this sense, a perfect victim.

In a sense, it’s like grief. No marks.

I didn’t realize until after the relationship had ended that I had been emotionally abused. After all, my boyfriend didn’t call me names. He didn’t yell. But he sent fiery texts that felt like hollow-point bullets ripping into my organs.

Abuse is not a one-size-fits-all. And emotional abuse is insidious. It is hard to pin down sometimes. That’s its danger. We all know what physical abuse is, but emotional abuse gets explained away perhaps more easily because there are no visible marks.

In that sense, it’s like grief. No marks. We’re the invisible wounded.

My abuser claimed a version of constructive criticism to make his poison taste sweet. He tacked his words to my heart by claiming he was speaking God’s words.

He put himself between God and me, I realized later. That’s a dangerous place to be.

I started thinking maybe I wasn’t good enough. Oh, how I wanted to be a better Christian. I thought maybe if I was my boyfriend would love me forever.

At the same time, I was trying to take care of my terminally ill mother. If I was with her instead of at mid-week church services with my boyfriend, I sensed he was not pleased.

But I was one of the lucky ones. Mom, abused by an ex-husband, had taught me to think for myself. And my relationship with God up to that point had taught me I’m valued and loved apart from righteous acts and activities.

I was shaken, but deep inside I sensed I was not crazy. I was not in the wrong.

But it took months to pull away. And it took years to get rid of his voice in my head.

I had to revisit the grief over the loss of my father and process the death of my mother while I healed from the abuse.

Eventually I fully embraced that it wasn’t me. I was enough. I was valuable. I was loved.

God mended me, and he gave me a great husband who shows me all the time what real love looks like. He is gentle, thoughtful and kind.

I’m so glad I came to understand that my boyfriend contrived the negative messages all by himself. He wasn’t speaking for God. God and me? We are okay.

My abuser is dead now. He got married about 18 months after I did, and then three years later, his wife left him, and he killed himself. She has written online about the emotional abuse she endured. Name-calling. Shaming. Other things far more toxic than what I experienced.

Abuse complicates grief. Abuse also may compound grief.

To properly grieve in a way that leads to a measure of healing can take all the emotional energy we can muster. The fact that victims find it difficult to extract themselves from an abuser is well documented, but it is important we disconnect from such a relationship, grief or no grief.

What can help us uncouple?

I advise victims seek the help of one or more professionals. I also offer this perspective: Victims – or may I call them survivors? – must cobble together support. That support comes in the form of social and emotional support, spiritual support and financial support.

But first I think they must believe they are worth more than what they are getting.

Our life experiences and abuse might have messed with our sense of what God thinks of us, but I want anyone who feels “less than” to stretch out in prayer to find out who He really is.

Look in the Bible, too. He will tell us who we really are.

No, we are not perfect, and he wants us to be better to Him and to each other, but He isn’t sitting around waiting to condemn us for our missteps. In fact, He is waiting for each of us to seek Him out. He wants to listen and to love on us.

Will it be him or me? Once we get ahold of our value, we may ask this question. God made us with an instinctual will to survive.

When I asked that question, I answered “me.” It changed everything.

We will find hunks of healing from abuse and from grief as we pair up with God and keep answering “me.”

Who is your “best friend” when it comes to emphasizing with your feelings and building you up? That is likely the best person to enlist first for your support team.

Copyright © 2021 by Toni Lepeska. All rights reserved.

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