TRIGGER WORD WARNING: Explicit chronicle of abuse endured, expletives with ###, etc., disturbing abusive behavior, drug-induced abusive behavior, past threats of violence and acts of violence recounted. May this ever be a stepping stone and NEVER a stumbling block.
Haltingly, and a bit awkwardly, I want to explain the disclosure event of the week. Please extend me grace as I discover how to best divulge this part of me that has been veiled emotionally (and even physically) for so long. Reassure me, if you can, for I feel exposed yet empowered.
James asked me a very hard question this week. “Gracie, I don’t think that you have been completely honest with me about what really happened when you were married to your ex-husband. Baby, I’m here. I’m not him. I love you. Will you please tell me everything?”
*CUE mild panic attack* My heart was racing, and I envisioned myself like Ginny in “Forrest Gump”® when she is throwing rocks at her old house but then she falls on the ground and claws the dirt in her bereavement. I realized that I was shaking my head vehemently, as I murmured, “No, no….baby, no.” I started crying. I gulped air, and asked if I could tell him later, just not out in the public eye (we were in a quiet parking lot). I explained that no one knew the FULL STORY. He held me while I sobbed, and whispered that he was here whenever I was ready. We continued our walk, holding hands, with me shaking like a puppy.
Later on that night, after I had been gently reassured, caressed and held; we embraced under the veil of darkness. I asked James if he was ready for my full story. He drew me even closer. I told him. Everything.
This is the part of the writing process where I fight the urge to dry-heave, I remember that I.am.loved; and I will my feet to move forward as I divulge the truth in black and white. ” Dear God, this is all YOU. I got nothing. Push me over this precipice of faith. I will believe that you have me, that James loves me, and that I am securely accepted in YOU. Here goes, and please apologize to the coffee shop people as I begin to cry in the booth…”
There is no eloquence for the following, and I am incapable of delicate sugar-coated “Christian vulgarities”. Please, I pray, see my heart through my awkward, blunt words.
The following chronicles the abuse that I endured at the hands of my ex-husband, may it ever draw your eyes to see the HAND of God as He protected, redeemed, and brought us out of hell; may it never draw your eyes to glorify anyone or anything but Jesus, my REDEEMER:
On our honeymoon, we spent a few days with my in-laws in Arizona. One of the nights, my ex took off all my clothes and was kissing me. His sister-in-law was outside our room by the laundry area; and after she walked away from the guest wing of the house, he threw me off of him across the bed and onto the floor. He snarled, “You ugly B####! I hate you! I never should have married you!” I dry-heaved for hours, until his sister-in-law asked if I was okay. She was told that I reacted to something that I ate, and then he threatened me behind closed doors. I was 2,000 miles from home, in a gated community. Where could I have gone?
He used to head butt me; after putting drugs in my food.
I would wake up in the middle of the night to him blowing drugs over me, or rubbing them in my nose.
He would “practice” throwing things as close as possible to my head while I slept. Often I would wake up to things smashing into the walls, the headboard, or even into me.
I would wake up to find bruises on my abdomen, arms and legs; with no recollection of falling asleep the night before.
He would scream at me in a horrifying roar as he did a martial arts spin kick and would kick the door arch above my head.
He would threaten to hit the children unless I had sex with him. Alternatingly, he would make me beg for things that I wanted. I was made to get on my hands and knees and beg.
When I would carefully ask him to be kind to me, or do something for me, he would scream in my face and punch himself on the temple with his fists, saying, “Do you see what you make me do? I hate you, you F***ing B####! C***! You’re so demanding! Aren’t you the little “De-mandam?” Then he would break something of mine, and tell me to clean it up.
When I would muster up the slightest bit of courage to tell him that I was going to leave, he would threaten to kill me, the kids, my family, and my friends.
“If you leave, we’ll kill you and make it look like an accident…In fact, I should do that anyway, good-for-nothing B####!”
At the very end of the marriage, I was planning to leave with the kids. I acted like everything was fine; and made plans to escape. One of our mutual friends told my ex that “If you don’t change soon, you’ll lose your wife AND kids. She’s planning to leave.” 18 hours before my plan was enacted, he summoned up tears and begged me to stay. He had been associating with a violent group of men, and I knew I had very few options.
I embodied every acting lesson that I had ever had, and kept repeating instructions that Dr. H. had given me, “A good actor never breaks character, Grace.” I never did. Not once. I played the role of the subservient housewife, eager to please her husband and I jumped at his every beck and call for the next three months.
It was the performance of my lifetime. My parents didn’t even know that I was planning our escape.
In the final days before we left, my ex confessed that he had tried to hire a friend to kill me and a friend of mine.
He confessed to trying to get a friend to tamper with the car so that I would die, but in a car accident.
One night, he and a friend forced me into a chair and proceeded to “interrogate” me for hours about being raped when I was in college. He barraged me with questions that were horrifying, questions about the sounds, the sensations..truly sick and inappropriate things that still make me cringe.
That fateful morning when I awoke from a flashback and watched him snort drugs off our coffee table, our baby was on the couch next to him. After I went to the bathroom, I groggily retrieved the baby and put him in his crib. I could hear my ex-husband cussing and throwing things around. I grabbed his switchblade, and silently pocketed it. He had been threatening to kill me, and I knew that I was outnumbered. Acting oblivious to the drugs, I timidly explained that I was uncomfortable having his friends over so late (it was 2 am) when I was struggling with flashbacks. I gently and quietly requested that his friend leave, and I headed to bed.
When I was 10, I read a true story about a servant girl during the Revolutionary times. She heard a noise as she slept on the couch, but she forced her breathing to stay even, and her eyes to unflinchingly stay closed as an intruder walked past her. As he crept up the stairs, she picked up a heavy object and hit him on the back of the head. Her master awoke, and they discovered in the morning that he had killed others just up the road from them. He had every intention of killing those in her household. From the time that I read that story, I practiced fake-sleeping every night in bed.
The morning of the drug discovery, I put all my years of practice to use. Laying on my side, I placed my right hand under the pillow as I clenched the switchblade. I focused on forcing my body to relax and evened out my breathing. I visualized the most peaceful memories that I had, and pictured God’s Hand overshadowing me.
When my ex-husband stormed into the room and threw things at me, I faked grogginess, and mumbled that I was tired and we could talk in the morning. The feigned sleepiness and the mercy of God convinced him to be calm. He eventually climbed into bed, and began a nerve-wracking cycle of almost falling asleep but then startling himself awake to scream at me, and cuss me out. Each time, I played my role to perfection, first acting roused from sleep, then sleepily asking him to let me sleep again. This repeated every 10-15 minutes for four hours until he finally dozed off at 6 am. I stayed in bed, continuing my charade until 7:30 when the kids woke up.
I slipped into pants, pocketed the knife again, and tried to figure out how to modify my plan of escape. Today was the day when I had originally decided to leave. Now, however, I was unsure of how to proceed.
Part of my plan had involved going to the mall with a friend while the guys watched our kids, so that I could call the women’s shelter from her phone and find a way to whisk the kids out of the house. It was 9:30 when our friends called to see what time we were coming over. I gently tossed the phone onto the edge of the bed and said, “Phone call. It’s your friend. He wants to know what time you are thinking for today.” That’s when all hell broke loose.
I was carrying our baby when my feet were knocked out from under me by the phone being thrown at me. I held tightly to Rex, shielding him as I fell into the wall sideways. I cried in pain until I was screamed at and threatened to be killed if I didn’t “shut the f*#% up!” He called the older kids over to where I was, and yelled, “Look at your pathetic mom! Laugh at her right now or I will hit you!”
I stopped crying, and faked a smile. “Okay, kids…why don’t you go to the playroom and play? Mommy will even bring Rex in so he can swing while you play.” After they were safely behind the closed door, I returned back to where my ex was throwing things against the bedroom wall as he packed our suitcase. “I’m going to F###ing California! My connections will help me there! F### this S###! I hate you, B####! You F###ed up everything! If you touch any of the money in the bank account I will F###ing kill you! DO YOU UNDERSTAND? I WILL KILL THE KIDS AND THEN YOU! F### this! I need space! I can’t think with you F###ing in my face like this!”
“You’re right. Why don’t I take the kids outside to play so you can think?” I shoved shoes on my feet, whisked the kids out the back door, prayed desperately for safety, loaded them into the van, and took off on the road as I called 9-1-1. Officers escorted me back to get the kids’ medicines, diapers, formula, food, and an extra change of clothes. When we arrived, it was less than ten minutes later. His drug snorting friend was already there.
After leaving, a friend escorted us to a women’s shelter where I was told that the current county I was in was not safe enough for us. This is because my ex-husband’s family were highly involved in the county and federal legal system. Within 24 hours of finding an attorney and filing for my Personal Protection Order (PPO) and divorce; his family member was in the office of my attorney, explaining their expectation that I would keep things quiet “in an election year”.
To date, all these years later, Friend of the Court in that County flatly refuses to revoke my ex-husband’s visitation rights despite the facts that I was granted Full Physical and Full Legal Custody of our children, and he has failed to comply with court ordered visitation requirements for more than 5 years, and there is a PPO in place barring him from being within sight range of the children, and we have resided in another county for more than 5 years. Friend of the Court also refuses to transfer our case to the county that we reside in.
About a month after leaving my ex-husband, he called our insurance agent and tried to cancel my life insurance policy because, “You know, if she dies or anything happens to her, I don’t want it to look like I did it.” He had two visits with the children, both of which resulted in them all ingesting peanut butter despite their ALLERGIES. He allegedly told the children, “You are going to Heaven now, but don’t worry, Mommy will be there soon.”
When I reported these incidents, I was investigated for child abuse, and it was found that there was no preponderance of the evidence. In other words, I was found innocent. Charges have never been filed against my ex-husband. He was eventually caught red-handed after stealing an automobile and driving it hundreds of miles away. He served 10 months, and was released for “good behavior”.
He has terrorized my parents, ripping out their built-in grill and throwing it at their sliding door as he threatened to burn their house down. After a separate incident, he was arrested for arson, held for almost a year; and then released due to “mental incompetence”.
I refuse to cover his abuse with my silence anymore.
I will not veil his unacceptable behavior.
I will not be controlled and intimidated by his power-hungry, drug-crazed, rage.
I am no longer his. I have been redeemed, and brought out of his hell. I walk in the light of God’s unflinching and unveiled Love and Goodness.
I am in better hands now.
I am changed and empowered to walk unflinching and unveiled, unashamed and unafraid.
2 Corinthians 3:18, “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the LORD. And the LORD–who is the SPIRIT–makes us more and more like HIM as we are changed into His glorious image.” (New Living Translation)
“The Heart of A Mother – Part 3”
by Gracie K. Harold
Trigger Word Warning: auto accident, traumatic brain injury, concussion, injections
As a result of the auto accident that I mentioned in my last blog post, I suffered horrible migraines. I had to be on preventative medicine, as well as strong meds to treat my migraines once they happened. We adapted as a family. I taught my daughter how to prepare canned chicken. I taught the boys how to make sandwiches. We developed a network of friends and neighbors to help us when I needed to seek emergency treatment.
I started a new job after re-learning many of my lost skills. We learned the maximum hours of work that I could handle without suffering from multiple migraines in a week. I started preventative shot therapy for the migraines.
I grieved all of the skills that I had lost. I grieved not being able to run again. I grieved my inability to jump off the sand dunes. I discovered that even with limitations, I am still a mother.
I learned that life’s experiences can either shape us or define us.
I could have easily chosen to have a pity party and stop devoting myself wholeheartedly to being a mother. I didn’t. When it comes down to it, I really don’t think I could have. I love being a mother. It’s in my blood. My kids are in my heart.
About two years ago, I joined a women’s group at our church. There I met an incredibly kind woman named Joy. Over time, I also befriended her hilarious husband and their sweet daughter. A family game night happened at church, and Joy’s son James joined them, along with some of his children. James had recently been blindsided by a divorce, and we talked about how hard it is when you want your marriage to stay intact, but your spouse doesn’t. Our friendship continued to grow, and our children became friends.
James invited the kids and me over for a play date, and we discovered that we actually grew up together! We’ve known each other since junior high! We were dating within weeks.
One Saturday morning, we took our five youngest children to a restaurant for lunch. James asked everyone’s attention; then he said, “I love your mom very much. I’m going to ask her to marry me but I want to ask your permission first. Is this okay with you?” Once realization dawned on them, they were overjoyed! I looked over at my future son and daughter. I explained to them that Jada Pinkett Smith mentioned in an interview that she referred to Will’s children as her “bonus children”, never as her “step-children”. I said, “You will never be my step-children. You are the bonus children that I get because of your dad’s love for me. And you can call me “Gracie” or your “bonus mom” if you want to.”
My newest daughter looked at me and said, “Can I just call you ‘mom’?” I was weeping when I said that she could. Her brother joined in, “Okay, mom!” My heart grew again even larger than I fathomed was possible on that day when I gained two sons and a daughter.
We all still have moments of adjustment; but overall, I marvel at how our hearts have been doubled. I can’t remember life before these precious children. I certainly never want to go back to an existence without them.
In the final installment of this series, my next blog post will detail our continuing journey as we make “Adjustments to Normal”.
“The Heart of a Mother – Part 2”
by Gracie K. Harold
Trigger Word Warning: rape, miscarriage, drug addict, preterm labor, “bitchy”, life-threatening allergies, physical abuse, grief, domestic violence, threats of murder, traumatic brain injury, amnesia, auto accident, concussion.
In my last post, I shared about the unexpected pregnancy and miscarriage of my first child. I told of the journey I took into grief, pain, and forgiveness. Today, my story continues.
Eventually, I married a man who I thought would share my passion for children. Instead, I found out on my honeymoon that he was an active drug addict. We were 2,000 miles from home, and I had no money. I honestly thought my “duty” was to simply love my husband. I was erroneously counseled by a few others to “stop being so bitchy and just love my husband”. So I did.
By the time our first anniversary rolled around, I was pregnant with our first son. I ended up on bed rest for 10 weeks due to preterm labor and contractions. I was plagued with the terrorizing thought that I would lose my son through miscarriage. Miraculously, my baby boy was born, seemingly healthy. We later discovered his life-threatening allergies to peanuts, and many other complicated allergies.
My heart was captured by this determined and resilient little boy. Before him, I didn’t know how I could ever love another child as much as I loved the daughter I had miscarried. I quickly realized that a mother’s heart stretches and enlarges with each child; not in a way that replaces the first child’s place in her heart, but in a mysterious ever-expanding way that still leaves me awestruck.
At my son’s 1st birthday party, we announced that we were expecting our next child. On the 5th year anniversary of my miscarriage, my ultrasound revealed that I was carrying a girl. This pregnancy also had some complications, as well as 5 weeks of bed rest; but I went into labor with my “firecracker” girl during the grand finale of the local fireworks on the 4th of July. In honor of her big sister, she was given the same middle name. Her huge tender heart for others constantly stretches me to see the world through compassionate eyes.
I was often taken aback at how much I still grieved over my oldest daughter. Some people who knew my story and about my loss of my firstborn would say, “There. Now you have a new baby to replace the one that died.”
No child can ever replace one who dies. My children are each uniquely irreplaceable because they are each an individual person with their own distinct personality. I still have a spot in my heart just for my daughter that I miscarried. She cannot be replaced; she will always be my daughter. Always. Just as my other children will always be mine. Always.
Not long after my 2nd daughter was born, my favorite professor and mentor died from cancer. My grief left my heart raw. Soon thereafter, we were shocked to discover that I was pregnant again.
That day will be forever etched in my memory. My husband at the time snapped at me, “What are we going to name THIS child?” It was said through snarling lips and accompanied by rolled eyes.
I told him we would name the baby after my professor. While I was pregnant with our little professor; I slipped on the ice, broke my foot and started again with preterm labor. This time I was on bed rest for the last half of my pregnancy. I had contractions every single day until my baby boy was born.
He also has life-threatening allergies, and has been close to death at least three different times. Miraculously, he lives on. The local firefighters started calling him “Firefighter Boy”, because they responded on more than one occasion to keep him alive and breathing. They also told me that they called him that in faith, fully trusting that he would grow up to be strong and healthy.
Three months before my little professor was born, my dear grandpapa died unexpectedly. Grief engulfed me. My son bears grandpapa’s name as his middle name, and undoubtedly shares his tenacity.
What an incredible blessing to have such a goofy, dry sense of humor in such a compact little body. My heart seemed full, and I couldn’t fathom a more fulfilling experience with motherhood.
When my youngest son was only five months old; my ex-husband’s addictions spun monstrously out of control. He tried to find someone to kill the children and me, he threatened to kill us and make it look like an accident, and he threatened to harm my family members and friends if we left.
By the grace of God, we managed to escape and had to move to another county in order to stay in hiding. We moved into a shelter for domestic violence survivors. I felt like a failure at first, until a friend gently pointed out that if I had stayed I would have failed to be a good mother to my children. She reminded me that in leaving, I had the courage to be a single mother who taught my sons that a woman deserves respect, kindness and compassion. I was teaching my daughter that she deserves to be treated well by the men and boys in her life.
So, I dedicated myself passionately to being the best single mom that I could be. I read every article and book that I could get my hands on. My divorce was finalized, a Personal Protection Order was issued, and his visitation was revoked. We still continue to navigate the legal system in search of justice.
We attended a domestic violence support group, and sought counseling. We grieved the loss of our safety; as well as our expectations of a kind, caring father and husband.
Above all, though, I learned that I am a mother.
Single or married, employed or not, in shelter or out, I have the same huge places in my heart for my children. I am fiercely protective of them. If threatened, I will become like a mama bear that protects her cubs.
I am stronger than I realized.
We were blessed to find churches along our journey, people who stood united beside us in support and protection. One time friends from church surprised us with a camping weekend. They set up a borrowed camper so that the door faced the campfire. The men split shifts sitting by the campfire through the night to ensure that the children and I were safe. Words cannot express how much that promoted healing in us.
I eventually found a job teaching theatre, and I loved it! For a short time, I even homeschooled the children while I worked part time. My job responsibilities and time demands increased, and we found a school for the children. Life was busy, but fun. The kids and I cleaned the school every weekend for extra money, and I remember the fun we had playing “vacuum tag” in the school after hours.
One day, I backed out of my parking spot at a local library, and was hit from behind by another vehicle. It was my third concussion in nine years. I was diagnosed with Post-concussion syndrome, and suffered from amnesia. I had to re-learn how to speak, how to put on my make-up, the name of fruits and vegetables (at one point I was confused because I thought black pepper was a vegetable). I had to re-learn social cues, and I couldn’t sing for 6 days. I couldn’t drive for 6 weeks. I had physical therapy for a year.
Yet, I never forgot my children’s names or their individual allergies. I remembered their recipes for allergy-friendly foods. I managed their health conditions, and remembered all of the medications. Despite the fact that my short-term memory would initially reset anytime something changed, my children helped me figure out tools to not only cope with my disability, but to thrive in spite of my disability. I like to tell people that I felt like God covered my brain with His hand in order to preserve the memories of my children and their health conditions.
So even with amnesia, I never forgot that I am a mother.
In the posts that follow, I will continue to share my journey through life, injury, amnesia, and motherhood.