Saturday, 29 March 2014

Everything is Awesome.

After an abusive relationship ends you’re often left with the aftermath. Damaged children, damaged relationships with your children, a financial mess and the stress of the ongoing divorce proceedings which no doubt he will make as difficult as possible.

In all of this it’s important to make time for fun with your children, and that can seem daunting when you don’t have money for days out. But you CAN have fun for free, it’s about finding ways to enjoy the simple things in life and one of these can be joining in with your child’s hobby.

My eldest was bought a pile of Lego Quatro for his first birthday, he's loved Lego ever since and my four year olds got their first set of ‘proper grown up Lego’ for Christmas. It can be hard work keeping track of whose is whose Lego and you have to be careful in my house not to sustain the most painful injury known to mankind- standing on a Lego brick.

But it’s great fun spreading a tablecloth on the floor (this makes it easier to tidy up afterwards- just pick up the four corners and chuck back in the box) and building Lego with my boys. And now, we are having great fun building for a competition Lego are running- you can see it here

Mr Rar wanted in on the fun!
The idea is to take everyday objects and make them a bit more awesome using Lego and a bit of clever photography- using Lego and perspective to add faces to buildings, egg whisks or even your cat!

These are the creations my boys and I have made, on the day of the teachers strikes my eldest and I even went out round our local area 'happifying' it with the Lego smile he made. And since we've been dreaming up new ideas and discussing them over dinner, so we have plenty of things to build next time too.
we 'awesomized' our printer by making it print Lego
We 'awesomized' our house by re building it completely- out of Lego
We happyfied some windows
We 'happyfied' the railway bridge 
we 'happyfied' a clock
We 'happyfied' a cafe

Doing this was great fun, the kids were happy, I was happy and you never know we might even win some Lego (though that isn’t the point) So get your Lego out and get creating- what could be better than building something awesome as a family?

And when you do, post your pictures up for me and my boys to see, we'd love to see what you're creating.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Will the police fail me?

The news today is full of stories about a report which highlights failings in the way police handle domestic abuse cases.

We could all discuss what could be done better, even those of us with positive experiences can find room for improvement and there’s several areas where the law could support victims better.

But actually my concern is for women still in abusive relationships who are reading this report. It can’t fill women with confidence about what support they will receive if they leave. An abuse victim’s biggest fear is that she won’t be believed if she tells and today the newspapers are full of stories about the police not taking abuse seriously, it can’t exactly inspire confidence in women that leaving is a good idea.

And if you’re one of those women I’m here to tell you differently.

 Leaving IS a good idea.

My experience has been that the support services have taken the matter seriously. I’ve had brilliant help and support since leaving, from the police, from Women’s Aid, from my GP.  Even social services, who I have a list as long as your arm of gripes about, on the whole have been supportive.

I have found that whilst there may be a lot of red tape holding people back from giving you the help they want to, whilst charities may face funding issues and not have all the services they would otherwise have, whilst processes and systems and laws might not make things as great as they should,  people care. Yes you read that right:

 people do actually care about you.

 When I started the process of getting help I felt guilty, I felt that I was wasting the time of people who could be helping “real abuse victims” it came as quite a shock when they didn’t tell me to “get a grip” and “go away” but instead told me that what I had been through wasn’t normal, I didn’t deserve it and they WANTED to help me.

And yes of course I came across unhelpful people, people who were scathing or blaming, people who believed his lies or said things like “it takes two to tango” let’s be realistic that’s going to happen. But I was able to cope with them because I was strengthened by people who cared, people who are being discussed in the news and damned as not being good enough, and not being able to help enough and I’m here to say, that whilst the processes didn’t always run smoothly or whilst they didn’t always say the right thing, whilst sometimes they were powerless to stop his rampages they cared.  I got out, I got help-  and now I’m better off.  And if I can do it, so can you, no matter what a bleak picture you see painted in the media. 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A peace that passes all understanding

The bible talks about “a peace that passes all understanding”

I used to pray for peace. I loved Jesus, why didn’t I have peace in my home?

I left my abusive husband about a year ago. It was the hardest decision of my life. I had prayed so hard for God to ‘fix him.’ I’d tried to be a better more supportive wife thinking that if I submitted biblically than surely he’d be convicted of his sin and stop? I’d tried to boost his self esteem thinking if he felt better about himself he’d be less derisive to me and the children, I encouraged his faith thinking if his relationship with Jesus was better he’d be a “better Christian”- after all he was a Christian, and Christians don’t abuse their wives and children do they. I prayed hard for peace and I believed God would deliver and answer my prayers.

Thing is, I thought he’d do this by overriding my husband’s free will. My husband didn’t want to be convicted of his sin, he didn’t want to stop being abusive, I figured that God would “soften his heart” and make him see what he was doing to us. It never crossed my mind that he knew all along what he was doing to us.

I never thought for one minute God would answer my prayer for peace through divorce;  God hates divorce right? Well yes, but he also hates idolatry. By constantly concentrating on pleasing my husband above all else I put that relationship at the centre of my life. I allowed my marriage to take the place of God in my heart, I made an idol out of it and sadly my idol wasn’t even real, it was a fa├žade, and fantasy that was never going to be.   I wanted peace but I was too busy having a messed up relationship with my husband to have one with the Holy Spirit, so how could I expect his peace?

I can’t explain how this dawned on me, or how I knew what I had to do. But I did. And despite my stumbling, my tears, my doubts and my anger I knew deep down that I had made the right decision.  God is not disappointed in me, he’s disappointed FOR me, I am his child, he loves me and he doesn’t want me to suffer.

So a year on, I still cry, my children need counselling because of the terrible things their father did to them, I find memories deeply buried re-surface and I remember bruises from twelve years ago that I had hidden to the point I believed they were my own fault. I still sometimes have doubts and sadly despite all he did I sometimes still miss him BUT and here’s the big BUT…..overall I am a million times happier, and more importantly so are my children,  my house is not filled with uncomfortable silences or fearful whispers about how to keep dad happy, it’s filled with singing, dancing, joy and laughter….and despite the noise and chaos that comes with three children it’s filled with a peace that passes all understanding, a peace that I prayed so earnestly for, God didn’t answer my prayer how I expected him to, and at first I believed he didn’t answer it as well as I wanted him to, but now I realise he answered it in a better way,  because he gave me freedom, and really, you can’t have the peace of the Holy Spirit without that.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
“For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

( Isaiah 55:10-12)

Friday, 21 March 2014

Freedom in Holby

I’ve been attending a local Freedom Programme and have found it really helpful. The Freedom Programme was designed by Pat Craven and is based on and accompanied by her book "Living with the Dominator." In this book Craven explains abusive behaviours by breaking them down into different characters who are all abusers. That’s not to say each abuser is just one of these characters, most have characteristics from all of them it’s just a simple way of describing the different patterns of behaviour that abusers have in common.

Cravens book at times seems to stereotype abusive men and describes mostly their more obvious abuse. For example of the Headworker she writes “He tells us we are too fat, thin, tall, small old etc. Our tits are too big, or too small and they sag” Many abusers won’t be so obvious, like my husband they’ll say things like “if you ever want a boob job to put them back where they used to be I don’t mind paying, I will pay anything to help you boost your confidence” or they’ll go out and buy you a bag full of gym clothes and gym membership when you have made it clear you don’t want to go to the gym saying “I love you just the way you are but you were so much happier when you were thinner” The book doesn’t always fully explain that these cleverer more subtle forms of abuse which leave the victim feeling the same way are part of this. It may be more validating to read a book that recognised those painful exchanges you find difficult to explain to others as abusive, that you explained away on a daily basis.

However, the book is designed to be discussed as well as read, to open the conversation up for women to support each other through these things. It’s designed to communicate the basics of abusive behaviour in an easy to read accessible to all format. Some of the women I have talked to on the Freedom Programme tell me they are glad it wasn’t more detailed in it’s description of abuse because they already found it painful to think about. In addition not everyone has the time or desire to pour over an in depth book. This book successfully defines abuse and tells us how to spot it and the effects it has on women and children and I would recommend it for anyone who wants something quick and easy to read to learn about the subject.
I don’t know if the creators of Holby City have read Craven’s book or just have a really good understanding of abusive behaviours, but if anyone saw the story line about Rics daughter Jess being abused by her husband the last two weeks they’d have seen many of the characters Craven writes about.

“The Jailer” kept Jess isolated so she had to make excuses to her father for not visiting; he undermined Jess and Rics relationship in an attempt to drive a wedge between them. “The Liar”  minimized what he’d done to Jess, told her he’d take care of her if she left hospital early and made himself out to be the victim. “The Persuader” insisted that he loved Jess, that he would do anything in his power to make her happy. He told her over and over that they were “meant to be together” and that he was sorry and would never hurt her again. We also see the persuader in his threatening to use the police to cause her harm by making a malicious report against her or her father. There are many more characters in the book such as ‘The Headworker’ and ‘the Badfather’ and the majority of them made an appearance in the show to build a pretty realistic view of an abuser.

I liked that the BBC had the guts to show an abuser as more than just physically violent, when it was revealed that Jess had horrific personal injuries I thought we were going to see a stereotypical ‘wife batterer’ storyline but rather we were given a bigger picture of the subtleties of abuse, something most people, victims included often aren’t even aware of.

I feel that the programme could have gone further than it did to show that the emotional abuse was worse, particularly when Jess’s husband was threatening her with a malicious police report, in my experience this was the most horrific thing my husband did and had a profound effect on me. It would have been more realistic to see Jess react with more disbelief and horror that the man she loves and trusts would do that instead of her appearing unsurprised at his malice. Similarly at the end when she left him and said she no longer loved him, I feel the program could have shown more of the traumatic bonds created in the victim, it’s unlikely that at this point she’d realise the full extent of what he had done and she’d probably feel that she loved him for quite a long time after leaving.  I also felt it was unrealistic that she was able to make him back down by threatening to report him and that the child would end up in care, most abusers don’t really care if their children end up in care and most don’t think they’re doing anything wrong so will carry on their malicious actions without fear of reprisals, or at least that’s been my experience.  I’d also have liked to have heard something about the effects of the abuse on the child, even if Jess just made a few comments about her child’s fears and behaviours to her father. There’s a common misconception that a man can abuse a mother and it doesn’t affect the children and the BBC missed an opportunity to challenge this.

Finally I found the show incredibly difficult to watch due to the memories it triggered. If you did too or if you are still in an abusive relationship you can find help and advice on the BBC Actionline website

The BBC may have been able to go further to portray the effects of abuse better, but overall they painted a really rounded picture of an abuser and it was good to see domestic violence being spoken about on such a popular TV show and I hope it has provoked thought. It will be interesting to see if Jess makes a further appearance a few months/years down the line and if so if they’ll show the continuing effects but give hope that life gets better.

Pat Craven does fantastic work to end abuse. She has worked with both victims and perpetrators of abuse and you can find out about her work and her book here (including details of where to buy the book) I would recommend this book to everyone as a starting point for understanding abuse.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Washing his feet

My UCB 'Word for Today' talks about forgiveness. You can read it here.

This word talks of Jesus washing his disciples feet as an act of forgiveness, but it wasn’t, it was an act of love, and whilst Christ calls us to “love our enemies” it’s worth noting that the disciples weren’t his enemies; we have no accounts of Jesus washing the Pharisees feet or Pilates feet. Love can be expressed in many ways and we are not called to ‘wash everyone’s feet’

Some acts of love cause us to open ourselves up and make ourselves vulnerable to others, and this is absolutely something we should do in loving, trusting relationships, where BOTH parties serve one another.

But we shouldn’t be rushing to wash the feet of those who have hurt us, emotionally or physically and are un repentant. We don’t reconcile with these people and we don’t love them in a way that makes us vulnerable to their sinful behaviour. We forgive them, but forgiveness does not mean we have to be reconciled with those who seek to harm us, rather it means we let go of our hurt and leave the sin in God’s hands for him to deal with, then we move on.

I used to read Christian writings like this word for today when I was married I read the words “the burden of bridge-building falls on the strong one, not the weak one” and felt it was my responsibility to put things right in our relationship after he’d had a fit of temper and behaved atrociously, hence I did the typical abuse victim thing of apologising for upsetting him and soothing him when in fact I was the one who had been hurt.

I read “More often than not, if the one in the right volunteers to wash the feet of the one in the wrong, both parties get on their knees.” And “ Understand this: relationships don't thrive because the guilty are punished, but because the innocent are merciful.” And heard that I needed to be kinder to him, to meet his demands in order to make him happy, and that by me doing this our relationship would improve.  By misinterpreting Gods commands for my life in this way I put myself and my children in further danger and we suffered more than we needed to.

If you’re in an abusive relationship no matter how much you pray, forgive, love and serve it WILL NOT change unless your abuser sees he is being abusive and gets professional help (from a Respect approved perpetrator programme, not simply a few prayers and some counsel from your pastor) I wholeheartedly believe that by the power of Christ even the vilest abuser can change, but only if they choose to and work at it, because God does not over-ride our free will. It is not our Christian duty to reconcile with or serve those who hurt us, our safety and that of our children comes first.  Perhaps I will explore how we go about forgiving our abusers another time, it’s still something I am working on, but for now simply know this, forgiveness does not mean allowing yourself to be hurt over and over.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Always Hopeful

“I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11)

As I tugged on my battered doc martins and tied my purple laces I was filled with hope and excitement. Today I’d pile boxes of my old life into my Dad’s car and head off to Uni to start a new one. I had plans, big plans, get a degree and then become an actress. I believed I could do anything  and my future looked rosy.

And then I fell in love.

As my new husband carried me over the threshold into the house we had just bought I felt so grown up- I had a home, a new job (not acting) and a gorgeous new husband. I was filled with hope and excitement once again about the family I’d raise; I had even designed the nursery for the spare room.  

I had many hopes over the next thirteen and a half years I was married:
I hoped he’d be in a good mood
I hoped he’d keep a job.
I hoped the next job/house move/hobby/friendship would finally make him happy and contented
I hoped he’d get the psychiatric help he needed so he would stop having ‘anger issues’
I hoped he’d get justice for the many injustices he’d suffered that had made him this way.
I hoped the responsibility of children would change him
I hoped the children wouldn’t be damaged by how he treated them
I hoped the children wouldn’t see how he treated me as an example of how they should treat me, or their wives when they grow up.
I hoped, most of all, that God would fix him.  

Then one day I gave up hope and I left him. I felt utterly hopeless, I couldn’t imagine a future without him in it and I no longer felt I could do anything, or had any dreams or ambitions for myself because I’d given them up long ago to pursue someone else’s dreams.

But over time I have learned to be hopeful again. But now my hope is not in my own ability to achieve my goals and ambitions. It’s not in a fallible human being to treat me how I deserve to be treated, or to take care of me. My hope now is in Christ.

My mis-placed hope in myself or in my husband lead me only to disappointment but I know Christ will never disappoint me. That I can have a future without my husband in it, I can have a future not dependant on any man or even on my own abilities but on Christ. I’m God’s daughter, he loves me, he wants me to grow and flourish and I’m learning to stand in that hope.

I’d like to invite you to come with me on my journey as I share with you my thoughts on how God is helping me deal with the hurts and pain caused by years of living with an abusive husband, how he’s helping me to raise three boys without a father to be respectful wonderful young men, how he’s teaching me to handle the mistaken pre conceptions of others about abusive relationships, how I’m learning to find a new place in his Church and handle those in my Christian family who “don’t get it” with grace and understanding, and how I’m growing to be what God wants me to be, not what a man wants me to be.

Whether you’re a survivor of abuse, still being abused, supporting someone, or just a curious individual wanting to better understand this issue that affects 25% of all women- yes women in your church too- I hope my blog will help you, and me too to get to grips with abuse and how as Christians we deal with it.

I’ll end with this wonderful hymn by Stuart Townend which reminds me about God’s unfailing love, his ability to triumph over all and most importantly where we should all place our hope:
In Christ alone my hope is found,
 He is my light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
 Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
 What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand