Disclaimer: This story includes details of abuse and mentions of suicidal ideation that may be triggering to some.
“People are often shocked to hear me tell my story because to begin my story, I must tell the part about my pastor father, who was the worst sort of abuser. If I could describe my father in three words, ‘hell on earth’ immediately comes to mind. He was narcissistic and used his title as pastor as his Dr. Jekyll, but at home, Mr. Hyde was our daily experience.
Sundays were no exception. If we didn’t smile just right at church or sing the perfect harmony, there was hell to pay starting as soon as we got in the car. If the offering fell below his expectation, that somehow ended up being our fault as well. Although my father was very physically abusive, the mental and verbal abuse he used on me and taught my ex-husband was what had the greatest impact on me, eventually causing me to lose myself and fight desperately to be found.
My parents separated when I was two years old. Somehow the prayers I prayed for him to come home were answered when I was nine. I remember being so excited, thinking I would finally have a normal family. For days, I was excited, bouncing around like a kid on Christmas morning with the anticipation of opening the best gift. I had years of pent-up Father’s Day ideas I would now be able to share.
My excitement died a slow death within the first six months of my father being home. Our once bright, happy home was now dark and ready to shatter at the slightest sound. The incident that forever changed how I looked at my father was when he busted my nose because I tried to help my cousin whom he had thrown across the room and knocked out. We were kids, and we lived in a war zone that once was called home. My mom chose to not call the police, and that became her normal response to the violence that was so often a part of our everyday.
Trauma often has a way of making you grow up quicker than normal. You choose to engage in experiences far beyond your age, trying to find a way to escape your pain. By the time I was eleven, I had started drinking. This was an area in my life I felt like I could control, my greatest pleasure in drinking was because my father didn’t know about it. There was a certain piece of the invincible in knowing anytime my parents would be gone for long periods of time, I would find my happy place in whatever alcoholic concoction I could come up with.
My parents never found out I was drinking: I lived in a world where we learned to hide the ‘secrets’ that would make my image as a ‘preacher’s kid’ tainted, where we learned to survive with the turmoil at home just to maintain a façade for the world where my father was the pastor and could do no wrong.
Through some of the worst years of my life living at home, I picked up some habits and issues along with drinking, which aided in my refusal to allow my father to beat me down with his narcissistic ways. By the time I was in college and living on my own, I didn’t have to hide my drinking; as a college student, clubbing and partying were the norm.
Although I enjoyed hanging out with my friends, I enjoyed mostly staying at home and drinking: this was safety for me. Even the times I did go out, I believe God was always protecting me because there are times I don’t know how I got home. I’ve asked myself over the years, ‘Who drove?’
One evening after passing out, I came to and heard my now-husband yelling at me, ‘What is wrong with you!! You’ve been calling me for hours and your keys are in the door, do you know someone could have walked in here and did something to you!!!’ I sat and looked at him in what must have been a stupor because I don’t remember calling him, and I didn’t remember coming home. If I could be honest, I didn’t remember going out. To this day, I don’t remember much but him yelling at me then storming out because I had put myself in danger. I stumbled to the bathroom and repeated the next day.
As time went on and life started hitting me, I decided I needed to find a ‘healthier’ way of drinking. One of my friends told me to start drinking lots of water, so that’s what I did, and I became what is known as a functioning alcoholic. I was able to drink a lot with minimal hangover effects the next morning. I was consistently working and going to school and indulging in what was my favorite pastime.
During this time is when I started dating a childhood friend who had attended our church growing up and lived with us at one time. I figured he was safe since we grew up together and he lived with us. What I didn’t realize is living with my father as an example was the worst thing that could have ever happened. There were red flags in the beginning but nothing I would have recognized growing up the way that I did. So, after a year of dating, we got married, and my life changed the day I said ‘I do.’ There were constant fights and name-calling in the beginning months, and I continued to drink and hide it from my husband.
Around month 8, I found myself pregnant. I was so excited, thinking a baby would complete our family, I also decided not to drink for the duration of my pregnancy. I was extra careful with everything, even the type of food I ate. Early on, we found out we were having twins, and while this was still exciting for me, my ex-husband used this as his way to convince people I was ‘cheating’ on him.
Why this was a thing for him was confusing until he accused me of having an affair with a young guy at work who had a twin brother. He told me, ‘I don’t make twins, but other twins do.’ To say the least, I was devastated he felt this way, and although he pretty much went to every doctor’s appointment, he never changed his mind about being the father.
There were many accusations, and his mother, who was very religious, told him she was having dreams about me cheating on him as well. Once that started, he told his family I had given him a sexually transmitted disease when in fact, I found myself with one at eight months pregnant. I confronted him with this, and as narcissistic abusers tend to do, he turned it around on me and told me he saw a man jumping off our balcony one night when he came home and that’s how I got it.
He even went so far as to take my wedding ring and tell me he gave it to a more deserving woman. ‘Why did you stay?’ was a question I was asked through my pregnancy, and the best I can say is, I didn’t know it should have been different.
My pregnancy was stressful. I was having twins, and I was also in an abusive marriage. At five months, I went into pre-term labor, which resulted in a 3-day stay in the hospital where they performed a surgery called a cerclage in which they stitched my cervix closed and put me on strict bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy.
At seven months, still on bed rest, I found myself stuck in the home with no one to care for me. One day, I had a doctor’s appointment, and my husband was nowhere to be found to take me. I went to the doctor on my own, and when I got home, he was there.
I went upstairs to our room, and he began to yell at me and throw things around our room. He was upset I didn’t wait for him to take me to the doctor. The more I defended myself, the angrier he became. He took me by my stomach and violently shoved me across the room. I tensed my body, trying to take away the pain of the fall, however, only a God who believed I was worth it could somehow move my bed to catch my fall. The moment as scary as it was, was so surreal because the bed was not on the side of the room where he shoved me.
We were both stunned to silence, once he came out of his stupor, he got really close to my face, and in a voice and face I didn’t recognize, threatened me. He told me I ‘bet’ not ever tell anyone he pushed me down. He looked over at the bed and stated, ‘The bed caught you, so I didn’t do anything.’ A week later, I was in the hospital on stricter bed rest, hooked up to monitors with little movements to try to stay pregnant if possible.
I had my twins at 35 weeks, weighing 7 pounds together. I started drinking the day I came home from the hospital without my babies because they were so tiny, they had to stay in the hospital in the NICU. With all the trauma I went through, they were healthy, just tiny.
Things got worse when the babies came home, his accusations of infidelity took on another level. Now he wanted to claim my daughter, but my son he maintained was not his child. One day while I was holding him, he slapped me in the face, and I almost dropped my son. I protected him and never called the police.
I had alone time on my hands with two babies, so alcohol was my friend. It became my one constant companion, and no one was around to judge my decision to drink. I rarely talked to my family, and my husband left at 8 a.m. and sometimes didn’t return until after midnight. The babies were still small enough they slept for part of the day, so my drinking never interfered until one day after a particularly bad argument, I decided to reward myself by going out to my friend’s party.
I was depressed and tired of the struggle of being married to someone so mean, I figured hanging out with my friends would cheer me up. I got the babies dressed and took them over to their godmother’s house. I drank more than I normally would have, but I also had the mindset I controlled my drinking, it didn’t control me.
Around midnight, I slowly drove back to pick up the babies, I had gotten very good at hiding my drinking, so I was able to pick them up with no one being the wiser of my true state. The closer I got to home, the more depressed I felt, feeling as if I couldn’t take it another day living like this. The closer I got to the bridge that would take me home, the more I started contemplating suicide as my only option. I couldn’t leave my babies behind, so this would be a better life for all of us.
My mind told me to speed up and ram the side of the bridge so I would hit it hard enough to make my car flip over the side. In my alcohol-induced mind, this was a viable option for me, so I began to speed toward the rail. But right before I hit it, I had a God encounter. I heard my daughter sniffle, and I looked up through the rearview mirror to see her looking at me, and I heard God say clear as day, ‘Who better to raise these children but you? This is not how it ends.’
I was instantly sober and able to slam on my brakes. I cried all the way home; I was sober now and had to deal with the thought I was going to take my life and my children’s life. I haven’t drunk since that day, and I no longer desired the oblivion of alcohol.
I left my ex-husband when the babies were fourteen months old. He pulled a gun on his father and me, accusing us of having an affair. He took it to heart because his mother told him she had a dream of me sitting with a ‘light-complexioned’ man on the couch kissing. His father was light-complexioned, and he walked in on us sitting on two different couches, which was enough for him to come to his conclusion.
Life didn’t get easier, but God continued to show himself to me and made a way for me to get help from the veterans as I got back on my feet. My journey to divorce was heavy with the conviction I was doing something wrong for leaving because that’s how my preacher father raised me to think. I eventually joined a church where I was able to grow in the understanding that God did not desire me to be abused. He loved me and wanted His best for me. With that understanding, after meeting with my pastor, I filed for divorce the next day.
Three months later I was free not only of an abusive marriage but also of the religious teaching that came with it. I stayed positive through this journey because I had finally accepted my life was worth more than abuse and trauma, I knew I had a purpose to live for. In 2012, I married my friend from college who was angry at me for putting myself in danger, we blended our two families his two children from a previous relationship. He has raised my twins as his own since they were three, and we also have two other children for a total of six.
In 2017, I released my book Reflections of a PK (preacher’s kid), sharing my story of childhood abuse. In 2019, I opened my faith-based nonprofit agency called Legacy31. God gave me the vision to begin advocating for those being victimized in the faith-based community. I provide resources and support groups and speak on behalf of all survivors at various events.
This year in March, God gave me the vision of ‘She Survived’ as a way for women who have been victimized to tell their powerful stories of survival after so many have been told to not speak. I heard powerful stories silenced due to shame and fear, yet this was their truth. ‘She Survived’ has been my daily reminder that what tried to destroy me created a loud purpose for my voice.
I believe the louder we speak, the more we are heard. I rely on the scripture, ‘She is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future’ Proverbs 31:25. I read this often as a reminder of my purpose and what God’s best is for me. I want every woman affected by this pandemic to know our futures have joy and strength connected to them.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tia Payne of Akron, Ohio. You can follow her journey on her website, Instagram, or Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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