The strangeness of a spring break (Part 11)

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Here are the other parts of this series:
Part 1: My story of abuse (Introduction)
Part 2: Seven things you need to know about abusers
Part 3: Dealing with victims of abuse
Part 4: It started with a crossword puzzle
Part 5: Getting help for an abuse victim
Part 6: Taking the next step
Part 7: My church’s initial response to abuse
Part 8: Your marriage counselor may destroy your marriage
Part 9: Cutting off communication
Part 10: How to choose sides in an abusive situation

Note: In this post and future posts, I am going to reveal some disturbing things both about the mindset of the victim and the horrendous treatment she suffered at the hands of her (and our) former church. Some of this will seem very personal and I want to assure you that I got the victim’s permission to write this. In fact, she approves everything I write about this situation.

In my story, we are up to April, 2016. The victim is in Michigan at her parents and the abuser is still here in Georgia. As you recall, he went to a few counseling sessions and then apparently decided he was good to go. However, the cracks were showing and it is was clear that he was not better at all. The victim had cut off almost all communication with him and they were talking just once a week.

Because the victim had their children with her, things were complicated. The children talked to their father almost every night by FaceTime, but he chose not to fly up to see the children during those first few months. However, during the school spring break week, the victim specifically invited him to come up to see the children for a full week and he accepted.

To put it mildly, Marla and I were alarmed about the arrangements. We knew the victim was getting stronger but she was far from strong enough to handle him, and inexplicably, the victim and her family agreed to let him stay in the house with them rather than a hotel. While the victim reassured us over and over that she could enforce boundaries and would not even be there most of the time, we knew that things probably would not go well.

We were right…

Before that week was over, the abuser was able to almost completely take back control of the victim. Almost every boundary was breached and the victim was holding on for dear life, praying for him to leave.

I want to give specifics because it may be helpful for some of you. I have hinted before that this week was eye opening for us; it  was in fact alarming and helped us see just how dangerous the mind control was. It also gave me an overwhelming sense of the true evil that was at work.

Before I get specific, let me give you the mindset of the victim. Her eyes were wide open at that time. She knew she had an abusive husband and she had an experienced counselor helping her with the emotional damage from that abuse. On top of that, she had evidence that her abusive husband was visiting another woman several evenings each week. All in all, she certainly did not have on any rose colored glasses at that point.

Within a few days of the abuser getting there, I knew that there was big trouble. The victim was clearly scared to leave his sight and she either was not communicating with us or communicating when she could steal away for just a few minutes. The reason she was scared to communicate was because she was worried that he would find out (he was watching her carefully and as usual, pressuring her about who she talked to).

I remember one night that she was able to work up the courage to go to her sister’s house for a few hours and while I was talking to her on the phone, the doorbell rang and she immediately went hysterical, worried that it was him. It was just her parents, but that is not the point. I tell that story to illustrate how her mind was working: rather than making the obvious choice of just not answering the door, she felt obligated to answer the door. For those of us on the outside, that is not easy to understand and seems unbelievable but I assure you that really happened.

The truth was that she could have stopped the evil of that week in its tracks at any point simply by leaving the house until he was gone and staying with her sister, leaving the abuser at her parents’ house with her children. Again, that was the obvious thing to do and we begged her to do that. Sadly, it was too late. She was already under his control, living in fear, and even though the abuser had zero leverage over her outside of his emotional control, that was enough. She refused to even consider the thought of leaving the house.

Her idea of being absent during the day had disappeared and she was right back to cooking, cleaning, and serving him in the way he had always expected from her. Though she had asked him not to touch her while there, he had his hands on her constantly and she could not tell him to stop. In fact, despite having information regarding to his activites while she was away, she nearly gave into his nearly constant pressure for marital initmacy

By the end of the week, he had even convinced her to agree to stop the no-communication rule and start talking to him regularly again after he left. She would in fact out of some sense of obligation keep talking to him daily until the day she informed him she was divorcing him.

Finally, a few days later, he left and we all breathed a sigh of relief. He got the family up to tell him goodbye at 5:30 am and started driving back to Atlanta. He actually left a day or two earlier than he had to and we wondered why but not for long. He got home in the early evening and a few hours later, was right back at the woman’s house that he had started visiting. By the way, even though the victim knew what he did that evening, she still was unable to take back control, at least for a long time.

I told you that this is where things get strange and to this day, I have no way of explaining what went on during that spring break. I have no idea how an abuser can take control over the mind of a victim even while she knows he is doing it and also knows that he is living a lie. I can’t explain it but I watched it happen.

What is the moral of the story? If you are ever involved in these situations, you need to be wary and do everything you can to keep an abuser and victim apart (certainly physically but in communication as well). Allowing the abuser to stay in the house that week was an enormous mistake. We (her parents, her counselor, and us) all warned her against that but the victim was overconfident about how far she had come. Eventually, she would get control but that set her back a few months.

Do not expect a victim to be rational in those situations. The obvious course of action may just not be possible for a victim to accept. While we were able to coach our victim to avoid making the very worst possible mistakes that week, it took a ton of effort and we succeeded by the skin of our teeth.

By the way, if you are interested, here is how the victim now writes about that week: http://songsfromthecage.com/2017/04/12/one-of-the-worst-weeks-of-my-life/

Greg Howlett

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