Saturday, 31 March 2012

Christmas Preparations

The festive period is the busiest time of the year in any church calendar and although I’d left the marital home (and church manse) in October, senior management in the church took no real action.   I could be cynical and suggest that they deliberately let things continue until Christmas passed because they then didn’t have to face the ordeal of trying to cover high profile Christmas activities within the parish.

No one had any inkling that Sandra and I had separated.  Sandra and the children resided in the church manse, I was sleeping on my parents settee still.  I would turn up at the church, put on the mask that I’d worn for eighteen years and pretend all was normal. 

In the last week of November, the church’s occupational doctor made an appointment to see both of us because the church authorities had asked him to carry out a medical assessment. In my opinion this was totally pointless because the problem wasn’t medical.  We were both interviewed by senior leadership who then made a decision to grant to both Sandra and I three months compassionate leave.   This pronouncement was made to me in a letter dated 21st December (note how it suited the church to wait until after the Christmas rush!) and the leave would commence 1st January.  The purpose of this was to relieve us both of all duties so we could focus solely on repairing the marriage.

I had said while being interviewed that keeping myself occupied had been one of my coping strategies and to have any purpose withdrew would be detrimental to my own mental health.  I needed to have something to focus on.   I felt hurt and angry that anything I said to the church authorities seemed to be completely disregarded.  In fact on 2nd January my first day on compassionate leave, I broke down in tears as the impact of  the social interaction I was being denied hit me.   I cried out to the four walls that contained me, “This isn’t compassionate, this is cruel!”

The letter received on the 21st December also contained a paragraph which caused me great angst:

“The Church strongly recommended that marriage counselling is undertaken together to address the difficult issues within your marriage.”

Difficult issues?   Eighteen years of Domestic Violence wasn’t just difficult issues.  I felt betrayed by a system I had trusted and committed my life to.   I was happy to continue to receive personal counselling but as far as I was concerned joint counselling was out of the question.  It was my opinion that Sandra would not open up and admit her role as denial and avoidance had always been the way she dealt with any thorny subject.  The likelihood was that she would deny anything I mentioned and then attack me later for whatever statements I would have made.  Joint counselling was pointless.  I wanted my life back.

Rather incensed by the Church’s attitude, I contacted the Doctor to ask what his recommendation had been to the church leadership.  His response, “in my opinion this marriage has irreconcilably broken down.”

Knowing what they did about the ongoing incidences of Domestic Violence, also having asked for and then received their own Doctors opinion that the marriage was beyond repair, why were the Church strongly recommending that marriage counselling is undertaken together to address the difficult issues within your marriage?   Such apparent denial of my reality by the Church devalued my own self-worth and I struggled to come to terms with their mind-set towards me and Domestic Violence.

Christmas day would be the first one spent apart from my children.   My children asked me if I would go to the marital home and spend Christmas Day afternoon with them.   As hard as it was, I did.  As far as I was concerned, the children have and always will come first.  Sandra being there made things uncomfortable, but that wasn’t of paramount significance.   I was there with the children, nothing else mattered.


Thursday, 29 March 2012

Counselling Sessions

The church had always made available to ministers an independent Christian  Counselling service should they feel they needed to talk to someone outside of the church.   There was no known precedent for marriage separation due to domestic violence but I knew that at some point the church leadership would strongly recommend counselling.   Despite my own personal reservations, I contacted the Churches’ Ministerial Counselling Service and arranged some sessions.

I was very apprehensive about doing this but agreed to persevere with an open mind.   I arrived at the venue for my first appointment not really wanting to be there.  I knocked on the door and there was no answer.  I telephoned the number I had been given.  No one answered and my call got diverted to a messaging machine.  I waited for quarter of an hour and tried knocking at the door again.  I hadn’t seen anyone arrive there and still there was no reply.  Hardly the best start considering my reluctance.   I could have used this as an excuse not to continue saying that I’d given it a go but had been let down by the counsellor not turning up on schedule.   The counsellor later contacted me to explain that she had been travelling in a rural area prior to our appointment and her car had broken down.  Not anticipating being delayed, she had no method of communicating with me to cancel the session.   

I agreed to re-schedule counselling and recall being asked at the first session why I was there.  I said that I was there to ‘tick a box’ as something that the church would say needed to be done.  Having said that, I was prepared to talk openly and see where it led. 

As the weeks unfolded, the counsellor was horrified at the revelations which I’ve written about in this blog.  She was equally amazed at the emotional detachment in which I shared and wondered how I was functioning ‘normally’ having gone through such experiences.   What I found most useful was being guided into realising that some coping strategies I’d learnt in childhood came to the forefront in the way I tried to cope with Sandra.  

Basically, I leant as a child that most scenarios were imperfect and some brought hardship.  There was no point or advantage in using those adversities as a reason for not moving forward in life.  I would banish the memory or block it out, draw a line under the anguish and lock the box, hoping never to revisit the torment.   That worked for the little boy who was always moving house, changing school and looked on as peculiar by his new peers because he spoke with a strange accent.   It also worked up to a point with Sandra.

There’s one more thing I would like to share about my counselling.   My counsellor was extremely concerned for the safety and well-being of my children and felt she needed to raise professional concern.  I did express that Sandra had not shown any physical aggressiveness towards the children, although she had been verbally aggressive towards them.  My counsellor’s fear was that as I was no longer in the house to absorb Sandra’s anger, it could manifest itself against the children.  With my permission, the counsellor wrote to the church authorities expressing her alarm over the danger the children could be placed in.  

It is my feeling that the church leadership was quite dismissive of this letter as they were of the whole subject of Domestic Violence.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Point of No Return

First thing Monday morning I drove over to the Diocese offices to speak with the Bishop. Sandra, however, had telephoned the Bishop and so when I arrived, I was immediately taken into a private office.    Sandra had reported me for staying away from home all weekend without any explanation as to why I was not there.   According to Sandra, I had left her alone all weekend without any consideration for the rest of the family.   Emotionally, I told the Bishop that Sandra had actually thrown my out in one of her many rages. 

I suspect the Bishop initially thought that it was a marital row that had just got out of hand and did not grasp the severity.     He arranged to visit Sandra at home and asked if I was prepared to go to the house to talk with him and Sandra.   I agreed to do this.

When I arrived at the house, conversation had already taken place between the Bishop and Sandra.    The Bishop informed me that Sandra had shown remorse (although she has never shown any towards me) and had arranged an appointment with her Doctor for later that week.   I suppose the intention was that I would accept this as a step forward and agree to return home.  However, all I had done over the weekend was remembering abusive behaviour and knew that I had reached the point of no return. 

I did state that a visit to the Doctor was pointless because Sandra’s problems weren’t medical.  I felt that she needed to see a psychiatrist not a medical Doctor.   Even in front of the Bishop, Sandra denied throwing me out.   She certainly seemed to have detached herself from any sense of reality.  I stayed calm and described my violent removal from the home quoting the words Sandra used.  She threw my clothes, my personal effects out of the front door.  She told me in no uncertain terms to leave.  I was left in no doubt, and neither was the Bishop, Sandra had thrown me out of the marital home by violent means. 

Sandra couldn’t accept any responsibility for her behaviour and when I cited examples of some of the abuse I’d suffered, her only response was , “ well, for a church minister your language is appalling.”   So I calmly replied that yes I had swore at her in retaliation but what else could I do?  Would it have been better for me not to swear but to have hit her.   At this remark, Sandra lost all verbal control and angrily shouted, “You’d only do it once!”   To which, I kept composed and responded, “But that’s the problem Sandra, you’ve done it more that once.”  She had nothing else to say.

The children were walking home from school and had seen my car parked on the driveway so came rushing in to see me.   I dashed out to see them and we met in the hallway.  This moment was and is the most heart-wrenching moment of my life, even now I still cry every time I think of that moment.

The children and I hugged and cried for what seemed like an eternity.  I missed them desperately. They had all found ways of coping with home life.  I’d tried to be a conduit to Sandra’s anger hopefully protecting them.   I think they could sense my release from years of torment. 

I said that I would take the family out the following Saturday.  On Saturday, I picked up all the family including Sandra.  Always when Sandra travelled in the car she would never allow the car stereo to be turned on so that the rest of us could listen to music and Sandra would always sit in the front passenger seat.  Things were changing, Sandra sat in the back and I played CD’s on the car stereo without any comment.   Sandra asked me when I was returning and I said I didn’t know.  Sandra assumed that once I’d had some time out that I would return to the family home.  She even asked me to drive her to my parents so that she could apologise for the verbal abuse she’d given them.  They are still waiting for that act of contrition to take place!  I  had reached the point of no return, having taken nearly eighteen years to break the abuse cycle I was not going back.  Too much hurt and damage had been done.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Loosening the Bottle Top

During the next twenty-four hours I finally spoke out about the abuse that was happening.  It had only taken me nearly eighteen years.   I had kept quiet for far too long.  Why didn’t I speak out earlier?  My silence was because of the stigma I knew I would face.  I didn’t think anything would believe me.  Most people who knew the public Sandra would not be able to imagine her guilty of the behaviour I witnessed most days.  As a stocky-built man, I also imagined people assuming that I couldn’t possibly be a victim of Domestic Violence.  I also felt that I needed to shield Sandra’s anger away from the children.  I also sensed that society in general showed a bias towards single mothers and fathers not dwelling in the family home were victimised.  I wanted to be a part of my children’s lives and the only way I could do that was absorbing all the abuse. 

It was a very emotional time for me and I described this experience as finally loosening a bottle and removing the top as all the hurt and pain of eighteen years started to flow out.  All the bravado in bottling everything up now meant nothing.  As I drove away after being violently removed from the marital home yet again, the only thing I knew was that I would not be returning.

I did not even know where I would go.  I ended up driving to the church’s diocese offices.  As I arrived there, it was evident to anyone who saw me that I was in an extremely distressed condition.  The build-up of emotional suppression was exploding.  The Bishop was elsewhere so I spoke with another minister who was horrified to hear my story unfold.  This minister was the first person I had ever spoken too about the abuse and graciously listened without being judgmental. 

I then drove to my parents house.  Although they knew that Sandra could be quite volatile, they were sickened when I off-loaded all that I could recall I had gone through during the marriage.  They insisted that I stay with them and I spent the next six weeks sleeping on their settee.  Most of that first weekend I just sat in the lounge staring into space.  I was stunned.  I couldn’t speak.  I didn’t want to eat.  In fact, all motivation and purpose had drained out of me.   Internally, I was breaking my heart.  I was devastated at leaving my children behind.  I hoped that they were safe with Sandra.  Although she had often been verbally aggressive towards them, she had never physically assaulted them.  They had witnessed her attacks on me and knew  that her actions were immoral.

Looking back, I imagined that Sandra was expecting me to return home the following day (Saturday) and then we would fall into the usual pattern of forgetfulness and denial.  Sunday came and when I’d not reappeared at the marital home, Sandra telephoned my parents home assuming that was where I was.  She left an extremely abusive message on the telephone answering machine.  My father telephoned back to try and talk calmly with her, but she was not prepared to speak in a civil fashion and placed the telephone receiver down, hanging-up the telephone call.   Hardly the sort of behaviour or language you would expect from a church minister.  It was conduct that I was used to and under pressure, Sandra was letting her guard down and showing people her real nature.

Monday, 26 March 2012

My last week in the Marital Home

Friday 23rd October

The children were breaking-up from school for a week’s recess.  Sandra and I were discussing the week ahead and she said I could go and watch football if I gave them £20 spending money.  When I got home from work on Friday, there was no indication of any tea being prepared for the family and the children asked me to take them to a fast food outlet.  I said that if I paid for this, I won’t have any spare money for them the following day.

I took the whole family to a fast food cafe and paid £20 for tea.  On Saturday, I gave Sandra more spending money for the children and went to football.  Attending the occasional football match was my escape from Sandra.

Sunday 25th October

Not entirely too sure what triggered off this bad mood swing.  Think it started really on the Saturday. Every half-term school holiday, Sandra always gets  very agitated  about our children being the only children present in the church on Sunday  and it’s not fair on them and if, they are the only ones there, we will come home.  One of the teachers of the children’s Sunday school was away and so Sandra had agreed to teach the lesson to that class.  It was clear, however, that Sandra didn’t really want to do this and I knew that some last minute excuse would be raised by Sandra.

This was also the morning when the clocks changed and moved back an hour.  The youngest child had got up early and had launched a raid on the kitchen, cakes and biscuits vanished as these made a rather attractive breakfast.   This didn’t help Sandra’s  general mood.  I used to lead an early morning Prayer & Bible Study group so I went off to fulfil this engagement.  When I returned home to pick up everyone for church activities, Sandra had sent the youngest child to bed, which also meant (surprise, surprise) that she would have to stay home to look after our child.

I came home, and prepared and cooked Sunday Roast Dinner ..  I half expected to have the dinner throw over me such was the mood.  That didn’t happen, but after dinner while I was washing the dishes, she started ranting about me always going to football matches, and that she was going to tear up my ticket for a Sell-out  Cup Football match.  This ticket was a gift from my parents.     I didn’t offer any response.  By this time, I had learnt that the only way to handle Sandra’s violent outbursts wasn’t by reasoning or arguing back.  Any verbal retaliation would only fuel her anger, leading to a further torrent of foul-mouthed abuse and possible physical assault.  The safest thing to do under these circumstances was just to keep calm, quiet and wait until Sandra burnt herself out.   In the event, she screwed the football match ticket into a ball and threw it at me while I was standing by the sink.  An exhibition of ‘controlled anger’  - although damaged the ticket was still usable.  I did used to wonder whether Sandra had an undiagnosed Mental Illness.  As far as I’m concerned, she was either ill, or if her behaviour was not due to illness, the only other option was that she was evil.

Monday 26th  October

 As it was a nice morning I got up and mowed the garden lawns.  My niece and her fiancĂ©e had arrived at my parents’ Sunday evening travelling several hundred miles, a journey that they didn’t do very often.   My mother had tried telephoning to let us know they’d arrived and to arrange a ‘visit’, but Sandra wouldn’t answer the phone and unplugged it from the extension point.  Sandra would often disconnect the telephone because she didn’t want to be bothered at home by people from the church.   

She would also deliberately avoid places such as supermarkets or public parks if she thought that we might meet someone we knew from the church community.   On one occasion we had gone out to a local beauty spot that we’d frequented regularly.   We happened to see there a member of the church who feeling rather lonely attached herself to our family for the afternoon.  While Sandra remained polite to this lady’s face, she wasn’t happy about it and it was the last time we ever visited that venue.  Every time that it was subsequently offered as somewhere to go, Sandra refused to go just in case we happened to meet that particular person there again.

Returning back to my nieces visit,  I suggested to Sandra  calling in to see them but this was met with “Give them some time with your mum, they’re come up to see them”.  This upset the children who responded “Don’t you think we want to see our cousin.” 

After midday lunch, I drove the whole family to the cinema in the neighbouring town and then on the drive home, I suggested we finally call in at my parents and see my niece .  Fearing another reaction from the children, Sandra relented.

 Tuesday 27th October

I attended the football match in the evening .  This was the game ticket that Sandra had threatened to tear-up. By the time I returned home, everyone was asleep and I was greatly relieved that I wouldn't face anymore abuse today.

Wednesday 28th October

All day long Sandra kept saying to me “Why don’t you clear off.  There was a better atmosphere here yesterday when you wasn’t here.”  I cooked lunch, washed the dishes then took all the family out for the afternoon. 

Thursday 29th October

Woke up to discover that the youngest child  had already got up and raided the fridge, had vomited and had rolled off the whole toilet roll into the  toilet to try and hide the evidence fearful of mother’s reaction.  This set Sandra off in a bad mood, shouting at everyone in the house.  I cleaned up the mess and bathed the child.  We had planned to take the children out to watch another  film at the cinema.  Sandra was shouting and snapping at everyone and then said she needed a break and was going out on her own.  While I was washing in the shower, she changed her mind.  We were getting ready to leave when our youngest child was sick again.  I gave Sandra £20 to go out while I remained at home looking after the sick child.

I  decided to make of most of the opportunity and retrieve my passport from Sandra’s pile as all passports had been kept together.  While looking through the cupboard for my passport, I found two letters clearly addressed to me and both dated 10th  September  (over six weeks ago) which she had opened and NOT passed onto me.  I then spent the rest of the  day washing the laundry and cleaning the bathroom.

Sandra telephoned at 6.50pm wanting me to collect her by car. When I picked her up, I asked what film had been watched.  Sandra snapped at me.  She then moaned about the poorly child coming out in the car wearing a jacket rather than a heavy coat.

Sandra walked indoors, and straight away moaned that she could smell vomit and that I’d had time to shampoo the carpet.   I replied that the youngest child  hadn’t been sick on the carpet.  In fact, the other children both commented that the only thing they could smell was the cleaning fragrance from the bathroom.

Friday 30th October

Sandra had said that she wanted to take every one for Lunch at Pizza Hut.  During the day, they do a happy hour promotion where it’s cheaper, then on Saturday we’d take the children to a Play Area

I was suppose to be taking the children to the Library and then Sandra to a supermarket in the neighbouring town  as she didn’t want to the local supermarket in case she bumped into anyone from the church.  We went to the Library and returned home.  The children went inside to leave their books at home  and I stayed sat in the car expecting everyone to join me.  Next thing I knew, Sandra had removed the top drawer from my bedside drawers (which contained my socks and ‘knic knacs’) and threw it in the passenger side of the car.  I got out the car and went indoors to see what was happening.  The rest of the contents of my clothing drawers, my wardrobe and paperwork had been thrown down the stairs.  While I was trying to gather this mess together, she was screaming “Get out” at me and then proceeded to start taking books off the bookcase and was throwing them outside on the doorstep.  Everything that had been thrown, I placed into the car and I gather what little of my clothing that remained in the bedroom and drove away.

Absolutely devastated and heart-broken at leaving my children, I knew that things had finally gone too far and that I would never return to the marital home.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Editted Journal Entries March-October 2009

Mothering Sunday 22nd March 2009

 As well as buying Sandra stuff from the ‘kids’ and treating her to a Chinese takeaway.  I brought her an autobiography of a TV presenter  I’d thought she’d enjoy as she always watched his show on TV.  How wrong was I?  She flew into a rage, torn the book up and threw it at me.

Sunday 3rd May 2009

This was May bank holiday weekend and we had a busy day at the church. All the activities that took place at the church during this play were under my leadership and direction.    All day I received favourable comment and positive feedback.     This is something that over the years has caused problems as she doesn’t appear to like me receiving any sort of positive acknowledgement.  I put this down to Sandra’s  insecurity.

About eight o’clock that evening, she went into melt down, shouting and becoming very threatening in behaviour, screaming that she wanted me out of the house and would throw me out herself if I didn’t go.  I went outside and sat in the car parked on the driveway  for 20 minutes.  I then went to re-enter the house but was met with more threatening behaviour.  In a complete rage, Sandra screamed at me to get out of the house and stay away.  Absolutely shocked, I drove to my parents who lived five miles away, in tears.  I tried phoning to speak rationally with her, but all my telephone calls were ignored.  My parents insisted that I stayed at their home but I was adamant that I had to return and try and soothe the situation.  I returned home at but all the doors had been locked and the keys had been placed in all locks meaning that, from the outside, I couldn’t unlock any doors.  I tried for half an hour to enter my house all in a non-threatening manner so as to not draw attention from neighbours as to what was happening.   At 10.30pm I gave up when I saw all the house lights being switched off.  I drove back to my parents’ home and slept on their sofa. 

The next morning,  I returned back to the marital home, The only comment from Sandra was ‘You’re back then,” and then she proceeded to behave in a manner as if nothing unusual had occurred.   My absence was never mentioned by anyone.

 Wednesday 2nd September 2009

We had just returned from holiday which had included a few stressful moments over travelling arrangements but nothing out of the normal.  Got home to discover that there had been a situation in the Church that needed resolving.   Although technically, Sandra was the leader of the church she would avoid dealing with difficult situations and would leave them to me.  Because of the nature of the problem within the church, I felt that Sandra had to be involved.  One complication was that the children were still on their summer recess from school.  In order for both of us to tackle the crisis, I  asked my parents to have the children for a couple of hours Wednesday morning.

At 2.30am Wednesday morning, I was awoken by Sandra who was in an argumentive mood – saying that it was unfair to dump the children at my parents on their  last day off school and Wednesday was a bad day to visit these people etc.  I told her to go back to sleep but it meant that Sandra avoided two difficult conversations that would take place that morning.  Rather than jointly speaking to the people involved, I ended up going alone.  I retuned home at 1pm to discover the vile mood continuing.   Sandra was shouting that no food was in for lunch using language that was unbefitting for a church minister and words that her congregation would be shocked to learn that she even knew!  With raised voice she stated that she was hungry and had to be out for 2pm for a Hair appointment. To try and appease the storm, I went and brought fish and chips for everyone.  This didn’t work.  Sandra was still in a rage, and after nibbling on her plate she said, “ I don’t want these ****ing chips and deliberately walked over to me and tipped the plate over my head, also letting the plate fall over me.  When I just sat there and didn’t respond not wishing to feed her anger even further, she lifted up my plate and tipped it over my head.  

 I dropped her at the Hairdressers at 2pm and she said she was going on to the local supermarket and would telephone when she was ready to be taxied home.

We were supposed to be at my parents for a birthday tea at 4pmwhich had been pre-arranged.  Sandra phoned for a lift from Tesco’s at 5.10pm.   She climbed in the car as if nothing had happened while myself and the children were very subdued in mood afraid to say the wrong thing to Sandra in case it provoked another violent reaction.  When we finally arrived at my parents Sandra waltzed into their home as if everything was perfect, chatting away about the most trivial of items.  No apology was given for being over two hours late.

Sunday 6th September 2009

 When I was washing the lunchtime dishes, the youngest child came into the kitchen and threw a spoonful of rice at me from a dinner plate.   I shouted at the child and gave a telling-off.   However, this was another defining moment for me.  This child had some learning difficulties and I’d been telling myself that were I to leave, this child would be severely affected in particular.   I reflected on what had happened and realised that the youngest child had carried out this action because of watching Mother behaving in the same way and maybe thought that it was okay to throw food over people.  I woke up to the fact that the other person I was kidding was myself.

Tuesday 15th September  2009

The two oldest children usually walked home from school together.  The oldest child was having tea at a friends house, so I’d arranged to pick up the middle child from school. I would go straight from my office to the school.   On the way back, a boy was laying on the road in some distress so we stopped to help.  This meant that we got home later than expected.  Sandra was furious when we arrived home  shouting and swearing  convinced that I was late picking my child up.  I tried to explain what had happened but Sandra refused to accept this.  Half an hour later, the school telephoned me to give me an update as the boy had been taken to hospital.   Sandra even accusing me of pretending to take a phone call from the school and blackmailing my child to agree with my story.  The boy’s mother kindly sent me a ‘Thank You’ card for stopping to help her son but Sandra still refused to accept the true version of events and never apologised for her actions. 

Thursday 8th October

We had a joint visit from our Bishop to talk about the crisis that happened at the beginning of the month.  Sandra was extremely talkative and when we were discussing the  situation started saying “we said to …..”.  This did annoy me as she couldn’t cope at all with the problems and had left it all to me to sort out and now she was speaking as if she was present and had resolve matters.  So I interrupted her and corrected her by saying, “Actually I said to…… you weren’t even there! “

Later, when we were on our own, Sandra told me in no uncertain terms that I was out of order and that she would make my life hell for showing her up in front of the Bishop.

Tuesday 13th October 

The oldest child  had an accident and was knocked down on the way home from school.  I was able to get to the scene straight away as one of the roadside witnesses telephoned me.    Meanwhile, the school had found out and tried phoning Sandra on her mobile phone. They left a voicemail. I was always asking Sandra to use her mobile phone as she never had it switched on or carried it with her. As we travelled to the hospital, I told Sandra that this sort of thing was the very reason she should always have her mobile phone available.

Early Wednesday morning (2.30am )she woke me up to argue that the school couldn’t leave her a voicemail because her phone wasn’t switched on!!!  I just told her to go to sleep.  

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Journal

The defining moment for me came at the beginning of 2009 when I decided to keep a journal charting the abuse that was taking place.  Much of it had become such common practise within the family home that it seemed a normal way of life.  I felt absolutely lost and desolate.  I tried to act as if all was well but there were many occasions when I was withdrawn and subdued.  No one had any real notion of what went on behind close doors.  My external pretence of a perfect home life seemed to be mirrored by the children.  Had they behaved in an unruly fashion due to the example set them, they may have had good reason to.  However, they always behaved impeccably and extremely well-mannered and polite.

Two things occurred when I first commenced writing this journal.  I wrote of some of the historic actions which I have also written about in this blog.   By now I had over sixteen years of material to draw from and the thought frightened me that I had only recorded the things I could remember.  There was so much more that had been assigned to the dark recesses of my mind - that place where we place stuff we want to forget. 

As I started to document current happenings I then attempted to read back my words with an unbiased open mind.  It had only taken nearly seventeen years but reality hit me.  What I read was absolutely horrific and shocking.   I had been living domestic violence for so long, I had accepted the irrational behaviour of my wife and I had become numb to unreasonable behaviour occurring.  Over the years I had adopted my own personal coping strategies to get through each day.  The self-justification I’d made to explain Sandra’s actions and words had eroded away the severity of the abuse.

Furthermore if anyone else ever read my journal, I felt that what I was describing would sound far from plausible.  I can’t imagine that anyone would treat such an account as fiction.  It became important to me to take photographs on a mobile device to substantiate my personal witness. 

For anyone caught in a violent relationship who feels that they have nowhere to turn for help, I would recommend keeping a diary or journal as your first step.  As I’ve already stated, this was for me the defining movement.  It didn’t solve everything but it helped to make me aware of the full impact the abuse had and was taking on me.  It also became a form of self-therapy.  It would also prove to be a great support in the months and years when I started to rebuild my life.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Temptations that Church Ministers face

Church ministers face many temptations.  Some fall victim to them.  Many of those temptations remain secret and hidden.  Many church ministers’ misdemeanours are swept under the carpet and buried.  The most unchristian behaviour can be completely overlooked and ignored.  Many aspects of sexual impropriety end up being dealt with internally.   

There are two types however that seem to be unforgivable.

Stories of church ministers who have had affairs are commonplace.   If a church minister has an illicit affair with a parishioner, church congregations are notorious for speculating over the lurid details and perhaps this says more about those spreading rumours.  No consideration is giving as to what pressures may have led that church minister towards someone else.  He is automatically the guilty party and no real understanding is shown.  Often, the minister will end up losing his job.

The second types of temptation are financial misconduct.  Sometimes, with the low level of stipend and financial pressure the temptation proves too great.  Faced with increasing debt due  to Sandra’s demands to live beyond our budget, I succumbed to this temptation.  I’m deeply ashamed of what I did and the church was more than adequately reimbursed.  I still don’t know why I did it.  This action was something I did and then blocked out from my memory.   In a way, it was just another item to block out in order to survive daily.  Hindsight is a wonderful gift and I believe that my over claiming of personal expenses was some form on subconscious attempt to cry out for help.  The only problem was that no one heard or recognised those cries.  The churches own financial controls which should have identified the erroneous expenditure was pitiable and I still had no way of unburdening myself of the abuse I was experiencing. 

Although by now, I was in a fragile state of mind, I fully acknowledge that these actions were wrong.  I have accepted responsibility for them and sought to make restitution.

Sadly, I know I wasn’t the first church minister to fall this way and I won’t be the last.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The four most stressful things in life

In one pastoral interview, our bishop suggested two scenarios for our next church appointment;   either we stayed working together as a husband and wife leadership team in another diocese which could be anywhere in the country or we stayed in the same diocese with Sandra assuming the role of church minister for a smaller congregation and with myself working mainly around the whole district of the diocese during weekdays but supporting Sandra at her church on Sundays.

Sandra wanted us to remain working together as a joint ministry team as she did not want the responsibility of running a church.  I, however, needed the second option.  I saw an opportunity for spending the daytime completely away from Sandra.  However, I knew that it would mean I would also have to cover for Sandra, effectively running the smaller church myself as well as undertaking my diocese duties.   I also had a second personal reason for wanting to stay in this area, my parents were approaching their retirement and had expressed their desire to relocate into this same area.   All through my years of ministry my parents had lived over a hundred miles away and now there was an opportunity for me to be closer by. Not only would it be good for my children to see their grandparents regularly, but it would be beneficial to me and my own sense of well-being.

What was our seventh move in fourteen years become eight house moves in fifteen for the manse that we were allocated was too small to house a growing family.  Moving house is considered one of the top four most stressful things in life.  Not many people would be able to claim moving house eight times in such a short period.  Included in that top five list of life stressors is work/ changing jobs and relationship problems.  No wonder I felt stressed!  The mask of pretence was starting to slip as these hidden stresses continued to make their mark on my mental health. 

The cycle of abuse continued in stages.   The verbal abuse was constant, while physical attacks were sporadic.   Post natal depression could no long be used as an excuse.  We only received a basic church stipend and we struggled like most families with young children financially. Unlike some families, we had no way of supplementing our income.  The church had made it clear that if any external monetary remuneration was received by a minister it was to be paid to the church.  Furthermore the church encouraged the principle of tithing, which is the practise of donating ten per cent of one’s income to the church.   Church ministers taught this to their congregations and were expected to lead by example in their personal giving to the local church. 

Sandra had decided that the children were now at an age to enjoy holidays similar to those that their more affluent friends enjoyed.  I argued that we did not receive enough income to afford such holidays, but once Sandra had set her mind on something she would not listen to anyone else.  She would book holidays then ask for money to settle the account at the Travel Agents.  The fourth most stressful factor reared its head: Debt.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Coping Strategies

During these first fourteen years of victimisation I developed my own coping strategy. Within myself I was still justifying Sandra’s unacceptable behaviour by making excuses. I also decided that my only priority was trying to raise my own children in a way that, despite all that they witnessed, they would have a normal childhood and mature into well-balanced adults. The children also knew about Sandra’s bereavements and in childish manner recognised their mother’s behaviour as an expression of grief. Young children need their father present and children need a relationship with both parents. As far as I was concerned, the children needed me and so there were no other considerations. Whatever I now felt about Sandra, I was never going to walk out on my children.
By this time, any affection I held for Sandra had been eroded. There had been no sexual relationship for at least nine years. For appearances sake, we shared a bedroom but seldom a bed. Most nights, I would attempt to sleep on the floor in between the heating radiator and the bed. This was particularly uncomfortable during the winter months for I had no access to any blankets or duvets; I had to rely on the clothes I wore to keep me warm during the cold, frosty nights of winter. On the few times I was permitted to sleep in the bed, I hunched up right at edge of the bed.
I couldn’t bear to be in the same room as Sandra. I could sit and watch children’s television or a video with the children. As soon as the children went to bed and Sandra insisted on watching every imaginable soap opera, I left the room and turned to the computer. I found projects to engage in. I collected old Bibles and had purchased an antiquarian one printed in the 17th century with an interesting engraved title page. I spent three years researching every person remotely connected with its production. Once I exhausted all possible avenues on this project, I embarked on tracing my own family tree. I spent hours searching through census records and BMD (Birth, marriage, Death indexes making discoveries about my ancestry. Finding out just how tough life was for some of my forefathers seem to bring a little comfort to myself. The social conditions that they lived through didn't make much if any of their life pleasurable. At least, I had places of refuge I could mentally flee to.

In ‘The escape fantasy’ I mentioned how being away from home overnight studying brought me some form of temporary respite. I managed to negotiate occasional leave of home by travelling to a couple of football matches each season. This, however, was always expensive. Not just the cost of travel and entry to the game, but I also had to leave sizable monetary provision for Sandra to take the children out for a meal or shopping. I was so desperate to get away just for a few hours that I considered the cost worth it.
Although we had moved from town to town, I always tried to join one local community group independently of Sandra. This would give me the opportunity to spend an hour or so a week, away from Sandra and away from the church. As things got worst, the friendship I made at one group in particular sustained me and they helped me to re-establish myself when we finally separated.
I also discovered an online world I could escape into. I developed several internet personas and frequented internet chat rooms. I was under no illusion. At no time in these rooms did the real me appear. It was just mindless banter passing away the time. Whatever personality I was using would always stay in character and it was a harmless method of pretending I was somebody else.
I appeared to be coping because my own children were my only priority. I did not want to miss out on any aspect of their childhood. By now I had also formulated my exit plan. I would continue to play happy families to see the children through education. Once the children took their own steps into the adult world, I would leave their mother and face up to dealing with the stigma of domestic violence.
However, my coping strategies were not all as positive as they sound.  Some people turn to alcohol or street drugs to blot out their pain.  I started self-harming.  The way I caused damage to myself was by comfort eating.  In a small space of time, I gained excessive weight.   Even then although there was a physical change to my appearance, very few people commented.  Maybe they thought it was impolite to mention my increasing size.  Once I heard my bishop (the same one who passed an inappropriate comment about abused husbands ) refer to overweight ministers as ‘lazy’.  On reflection, a wiser approach would have been speaking to that minister in a pastoral setting and asking whether there was any reason or any stress factors that were causing weight gain.   Even then, all pastoral interviews I had were also with my wife and I would be very guarded in what I said, knowing that Sandra would later make an issue over the least statement.  For the majority of these interviews, I only said the minimal, allowing Sandra to monopolise the conversation.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Smile for the Camera

The move in 2003 took us away from a district we had lived in for over eleven years  to a different part of the country leading  a new church. When we arrived in the town, the local paper wanted to interview us both and take our photograph.  Sandra agreed to her picture being taken but wouldn’t speak to them, saying she’d rather I did it.  When the news item was published, she was livid that they had printed her age .  She rang up the paper and complained in extremely strong terms.  The paper issued an apology the following week as a gesture of good will, but subsequently didn’t give the church as much good press or free publicity as it had previously done.

While at this church, Sandra had a clash of personalities with a young woman similar in age.  What ignited it, no-one could determine.  Sandra was adamant though that she did not want to stay living in that community so insisted that that I approach our bishop and request another change of church.  I felt I had little option but to comply with her demands.  I asked for an interview, gave some reasons but never revealed the real reasons for wanting to relocate yet again.  The Bishop agreed and so, we were now moving again, to our sixth church in thirteen years.

When we were given notice of where our new church was to be, Sandra was adamant she did not want to go there.  This time I stood firm throughout all her ranting knowing full well that any refusal to move churches, particularly as we had asked to change, would be counter productive.  Unfortunately, Sandra made it plainly known that she did not wish to be at the new church nor did she wish to enter into the life of that church community.  The new church community found this attitude hard to cope with.  I was caught in the middle, I wanted to be the best church minister for that community that I could be.  I did carry private reservations about the situation, but they remained undisclosed to anyone.  I also felt a strong sense of loyalty towards my family.  I tried to balance two conflicting views without compromising my own sense of ministry.

Matters weren’t helped  by an incident that occurred at our church inauguration service.  This is suppose to be a joyous occasion in the life of any church community.  Just before the commencement of the service, a press photographer turned up unannounced at the Church. He wanted  a photograph of Sandra and myself for the local newspaper.  Sandra absolutely refused to cooperate and was quite abrasive towards the photographer and church elders who were attempting to coax her into co-operating.   I felt totally embarrassed by this, even my pleas asking Sandra to oblige, fell on deaf ears.   

The church authorities had instructed me that my main task would be to bring together two neighbouring churches that historically had two separate church buildings, two separate manses, two different sets of church leaders and different members into one church congregation.  The church authorities reasoned that this would be the most economically viable proposition as it would reduce overheads and reduce the administrative burden upon the church.   At my first church elders meeting, I spoke about the forth coming merger and how this would be an exciting and new chapter in the life of the church and I immediately sensed the atmosphere  in the room darken.  The impression that I had been given of both churches wanting and ready to come together as one church body turned out to be false.  Both churches did not want this amalgamation imposed on them.  I had just effectively announced myself as the agent of change that was going to see this plan through to completion.  Coupled with the ill feeling that Sandra had caused, I’d effectively signed my own death warrant as far as my leadership of the church was concerned.   The church elders met with the Bishop, the Bishop met with Sandra and I.  Sandra berated the Bishop about the whole situation and this Bishop saw a glimpse of Sandra’s hidden character which I had to cope with and had lived through for the last fourteen years.  Whatever proposal the Bishop put to Sandra, nothing was good enough.  When the Bishop asked her, what she would do in his situation, she had no idea.

The Bishop’s decision meant that we would be taking up leadership at our seventh church in fourteen years.  For me, those years had been long, silent years of hurt and pain.  Years of pretence, appearing the ultimate professional on the outside but deeply hiding the mental and emotional scars where no one could observe them.  These scars would soon burst open with severe consequences for myself but would remain invisible to others for a few more years.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The Escape Fantasy

After the birth of our second child, our sex life completely diminished.  I can pinpoint the exact moment our third child was conceived because there had only been one occasion when we had been intimate.    The abuse was already taking a toll on me physically and psychologically because during the third pregnancy, an unhealthy fantasy kept reoccurring :  in the fantasy I hoped that the new-born baby would look nothing like me so that I could claim the baby wasn’t mine, that she’d been cheating and that I could walk away dignity intact. 

Around 2000, I purchased our first personal Computer.  Throwing either the hardbase or monitor and cutting the cables with a knife became another common occurrence by Sandra.   I had to have the computer repaired and a new graphics card inserted due to damage caused.  My laptop also received this punishment on numerous occasions before finally becoming beyond repair.  This type of behaviour only seemed to stop when our latest computer was a gift from my parents.  During this period, Sandra’s only sibling suddenly died.   I excused her violent behaviour towards me by attributing it to an outpouring of grief.  After the violent episodes and when Sandra had calmed down, I would try and reason with her about her behaviour stating that it was not normal behaviour and help should be sought.  Her response was always either denial or “you’re a man, you can cope with this.”  This was the standard repose for the next ten years,  By this stage, the children were beginning to take notice and I felt that I had to protect them as much as possible.  I used reassure them by telling them that “Mummy wasn’t well and didn’t mean some of the nasty things she said”. 

The verbal abuse directed towards me increased.  I was told on a daily basis that she hated me and would make sure I ended up with nothing.   All this was behind closed doors, the public face for both of us was all smiles and I was the chap standing in the pulpit pretending I lived the perfect life and encouraging the congregation to live in a similar fashion.  It did have an effect on the children.  None of us knew when the next verbal outburst would take place.  We all walked on eggshells trying not to put one step out of place or say the wrong word at the wrong time.   The children became very nervous around the home because their slightest action could draw a telling-off from their mother. Although their mother was never physically aggressive towards the children, the oldest child in particular was often the recipient of Sandra’s tongue lashing.

I was trying to help as best I could, and would try and do anything for a quiet life.  Accepting that Sandra was going through a difficult time, I tried to carry out most of the household chores as well as take the most responsibility for running the church.  I’d always done most of the food preparation, in fact, all through the marriage I was the first person up in the morning.  I’d make Sandra a cup of tea and take it to her in bed. I’d then get the children up, give them breakfast, get them washed, make their pack lunches and take them to school/nursery.  I’d do the majority of the ironing and always cook the evening meal.  I became so tired trying to hold everything together that rather than cook, Sandra would insist I buy a take away for the family instead.  On the meagre salary we earned, I soon maxed out the credit card.

The church leadership approached me about commencing a study course which would involve being away from home overnight once a month.  I was desperate for the break.  I needed the break.  Events at home were taking their toil on me and no one knew my secret.  Sandra wasn’t pleased when I discussed it with her.  I recognised that I urgently needed a temporary escape from home and this provided it.  It meant though that I had to ease my going away by supplying  extra treats for Sandra and the children while I was gone, treats that I could ill-afford.   Any work that I did that drew compliments from parishioners would be heavily criticised later by Sandra telling me I was worthless and useless.  I never subconsciously devalued the quality of all I did, but it must have had an effect as the last thing I wanted was any sort of negative reaction from Sandra.  In these early years, I was a prolific writer to the church’s worldwide theological magazine.  The articles I wrote received positive feedback over their content and style, but Sandra’s temper was ignited even more when she saw my name appearing in print.  As a result, I stopped writing the essays that had brought me pleasure and had also provided a form of escape from my dire home life.
The study course finished and all course delegates were invited back to the college for a graduation event.  Sandra refused point blank to attend the graduation citing that it was unfair dragging three young children all that way. I went to my graduation alone, surrounded by my colleagues who all had their families supporting them and joining in their celebrations.  I wore the brave face mask once again.  When I returned home, I wasn't even asked how the graduation had gone!
Another abusive pattern of behaviour emerged during this period.   Relatives had picked up on the vibes in are home and all visits were pre-arranged.  No one visited unannounced.   I could guarantee that every time we were either travelling to visit relatives or they were coming to see us, Sandra’s behaviour would change for the worst.  My family would be called all manner of names.  If we were travelling, Sandra would behave in such fashion that we were always delayed in our journey.  When we finally reached our intended destination, I would be very subdued feeling the pain of what had happened, whereas Sandra would behave as if nothing had happened and everything was fantastic.

The time had come for us to receive a new church placement.  All relevant factors are considered by the church leadership and they then assign new churches.  We were given notice of our new church but Sandra was adamant she didn’t want to go there.  We couldn’t stay where we were because the new ministers had been announced.  I was on the receiving end of a twelve hour verbal tirade until I finally made the telephone call to the church leadership to say we were refusing to go to the designated church.  We ended up being assigned to a completely different church with no other options.