Hi. My name is Chrisie, and I’m a survivor of domestic violence, specifically verbal abuse. Although that statement gives me power and a sense of calm, it isn’t always quite right. Why? Because some days I still live in chains like a victim. Chains no one is keeping me in, but chains I don’t always know how to unlock, or how I can get to freedom. Some days that freedom feels just out of reach, a mirage, an illusion. The more I strive for it, the more exhausted I become.
See, I spent years with a partner that was always on the lookout for any flaw, blemish, imperfection, or insecurity to ridicule, humiliate, or exploit. Constant fear of lectures, verbal assaults, or a berating on things like how I loaded the dishwasher wrong were at times my only friend and companion. The paranoia and sense of worthlessness drove me to perfectionism and over-functioning to handle the stress. If I could only be better, more efficient, more beautiful, more supportive, more domestic, more athletic, more suitable, more everything, then he wouldn’t have a reason to lash out, punch holes through walls, or worse, throw me into them.
Naturally, I am a strong, driven, ambitious, over-achieving, caring, and compassionate person, but in that environment I became relentless, exhausted, over-tired, over-worked, isolated, and people-pleasing. I admitted to my therapist a few months after leaving my ex-husband, “I feel like I have to be perfect. Always the best, the brightest, the hardest working.”
“Why” he replied, “do you think you need to be all of those things.”
My response was swift and deeply honest, “Because then no one can find a fault to use against me or worse, reject me.”
I knew better than he did that my logic was unsound, as I had spent years being perfect, and yet never good enough, because my ex-husband could still find a way to criticize. If it wasn’t my mistake but his, it was still my fault.
I have been free from that torment for almost a decade, but some days I’m not free from the chains or scars it left. Years of therapy have brought tremendous healing, but that sense that perfection and overworking will save me from other’s negative judgement remains some days.
In recent months, God has called me to become a more public figure, to claim my entire story, to share it, to be the voice of those who can’t speak, and to help other women get their voice back. I KNOW this makes me more vulnerable to critique and public ridicule than ever before. So, before the vitriolic or critical words can ever be uttered, I find myself living in chains. I find myself working 60+ hours a week so no one can call me lazy. I don’t want people to realize that I’m a fraud or a hack or a nobody. For the record, we are all of those things and also none of those things, because we are Christians trying to live into our resurrection.
In some moments we are full of the spirit and manifesting the glory of God, and in another we are the hypocrite. I was speaking to a new, very awesome, very honest friend, Sarah, who said, “We got to find you some freedom.” Truth.
Survivors like myself struggle with putting themselves back into graves, even after Jesus has resurrected them. I once spoke with a former battered woman who was in a healthy and wonderful marriage. She was happy and free in many ways, but she confessed that she vacuumed her house daily, ‘just in case’. My heart broke for her. Healing is a constant process, just as resurrection is a constant process. The good news is that God doesn’t quit. God doesn’t give up or say, “Again?! I just pulled you out of that grave. The next time, you are staying there.” God’s work in our lives is a day by day, minute by minute process of making us new, whole, and healthy. We can’t gain our worth from God, for one thing, God already paid for our worth and isn’t going to exchange, return, or ask for a refund on our souls.
Fellow survivors and fellow Christians who shackle themselves in chains of self-doubt or self-sufficiency or perfectionism, where do we find freedom? We find it in the word of God, in the everlasting arms of our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Today I found it in the words of Psalm 91, which remind that no matter who comes to criticize or tear me down, God has my back and won’t leave me alone.