“It had only been a few weeks since we’d said, ‘I do.’ I was in bed getting ready to go to sleep. I don’t even remember what the fight was about but he came flying across the room towards me. Before I really understood what was happening, he had his hand wrapped up in my hair close to my scalp. And then he yanked a handful of hair, really hard. I remember feeling as though the world stopped spinning. All I could think about was I just made a huge mistake. But there I was, a new pastor’s wife who had brought a 9-year-old son into this marriage. I didn’t know what to do, or who to talk to. It had never happened before, so I rationalized it.
Even though I hadn’t known it while we were dating, I figured out very quickly after our wedding that my husband battled alcoholism. How could I have missed it? Either I was naïive or he hid it very well, but regardless of the why, here we were. I struggled for 9 years of marriage to support him the best I could. When he was sober, he was fun and enjoyable. Intelligent and witty, he would make up songs with silly lyrics to make me laugh. His eyes crinkled around the outer corners when something genuinely struck him as funny, and I loved being the one to make him smile like that.
But addiction had a deep, deep hold on him and it changed him. Constantly picking fights, paranoid and overrun with anger, life was almost unbearable more than it wasn’t. The first time a licensed counselor used the word abuse, I thought he was being dramatic. To me, a woman in an abusive marriage was one who was being beaten. That wasn’t me. Over the 9 years of our marriage, things got physical/aggressive probably no more than half a dozen times. Sure, that’s 6 times too many – but that wasn’t where much of the turmoil was.
I began to learn about emotional and verbal abuse, and the effects on people who are the recipient of these behaviors. I started to see myself and my marriage in the descriptions. I wanted to be there for him, because I saw for myself what a grip addiction had on him. I instinctually understood no one would choose to live the way he was living. But it was chaotic, tumultuous, scary and at times so very suffocating.
In December of 2018, just a few short days after we peacefully walked the quiet beaches of the Carolina shore together as a family, I packed up my kids and left our home. I had found him drinking again in the basement and couldn’t bear the thought of living through this cycle for the rest of our lives. I knew I had done everything I could do, and now the most important thing would be for me to get my children to a safe space.
We were your average middle class family. Enough money to get by and then some, always comfortable – never wealthy, but never without. My husband worked hard to provide for us, and I had happily taken the role of stay at home Mom. When I made the decision to leave, he tried to cut me off from all the finances. He stole my debit card and lied about it. He knew he was losing the upper hand. Even with all the resources at my disposal, it was so hard to leave. I stayed with friends and in hotels for weeks – the only help any agency could offer was the suggestion I apply for a residential home for single mothers in a small town a couple hours from where I lived. But with 4 kids spanning ages 2-17 I just didn’t see how that was feasible.
Finally through some prior ministry connections, a church stepped in and connected me with a counselor who specialized in safety planning for women in domestic violence situations who are trying to leave. It is very hard for women to leave, and it is almost never as easy as just walking out the door. I saw her regularly for the next few months, found a place to live and did my best not to engage with my volatile husband during the brief and supervised visitation he had with our children. I knew he was still drinking and I worried constantly about our safety.
The morning of May 9th, I was about to get in the shower when the phone rang. Surprised, as it was around 7:45 am, I stared at my mother in law’s name on the screen. My heart sank. He had left me a few voicemails a couple days prior, breaking our visitation agreement and rambling incoherently. I think I knew what she was going to tell me, and I couldn’t think straight. I put the phone down and took a shower, my heart pounding the whole time. When I got out, I listened to her voicemail urging me to call her immediately.
I’ll never forget how life seemed to come screeching to a stop when she told me he’d died. I remember being wrapped in my towel, hiding in my walk in closet so my children wouldn’t find me, down on my knees crying. I couldn’t make sense of any of it – why addiction had grabbed him so tightly, why we hadn’t been enough for him, why no one had been able to help him, why he’d let alcohol ravage his body and mind until it just gave in. Telling my kids their Daddy had died was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’m still devastated when I think of him during healthier times, and how much he’s missing out on. I miss having someone to talk to about our children, their struggles and their triumphs.
Since that day, I’m most proud that we have all shown up for each other day after day after day. Those kids, they are so brave, so tender. They have taught me so much and offered me endless grace for not always getting it right. We are fumbling, exhausted, traumatized and beginning a whole new normal that feels anything but. Even in the grief, there are joyful and happy moments and they teach me so much about resiliency and the beauty of the human spirit.
In the last few months, a dear friend and I have started an organization called the Dropping Keys Fund that will launch later this year. I truly believe with all my heart that my husband – in his healthiest state, free of alcohol and the demons of addiction – would want me to do this. I am so proud of what we are doing and the women who are just like me we will be able to help. They say the things that break your heart – your pain – will point you to your greatest purpose in life.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Miranda Hahn. Visit Dropping Keys Fund for domestic violence resources. Follow her journey here. Submit your story here. For our best stories, subscribe to our free email newsletter.
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