damn, i know the bravest people! seriously. and what is so funny to me is that many look at our community from the outside and comment that somehow it’s not a place for them. “there’s just too much brokenness at the refuge” is a comment i have heard my fair share of. i think folks who say this honestly have no idea how much true wisdom and power and beauty exists in this crazy container and how much they would be challenged in their own journey if they just had the wear-with-all to sit, listen, and learn from these incredible stories of humility & change. over and over i am reminded that the the ways of the kingdom are contrary to the ways of man. we are strong when we are weak. we are blessed when we mourn & feel. and real, in-the-deepest-places-of-our-experience humility is incredibly powerful.
i work with a lot of women who have been (or currently are) abused—emotionally, physically, and sexually. so many women needing to make huge decisions about getting out, rebuilding, healing from the damage. and what is sometimes so sad is that i rarely see the abuser. the abusers seldom enter into true community, put their butts in the chair and start working their stuff. the shame is so great. the humility required for healing sometimes just can’t be mustered. but there are always a brave few who show up and begin doing the work. meet “ian”. he is seriously one of the most humble, sensitive, caring and courageous men i know. abused as a child, he then became an abuser himself. and against all odds (that’s what i love about God!) he is on a solid path of healing & redemption. we hear a lot of stories of women healing from abuse, but very rarely is this side of the story told. this is what can happen when someone comes out of the darkness and steps into the light & begins to learn in deep places the truth about God’s love. i hope it touches your heart as much as it touches mine.
- share a little bit about your family dynamics & your early spiritual journey.
I was raised in a very religious household and early on the family rules were very clear. Whatever happened behind the closed doors would always stay behind closed doors. Family secrets were always to be kept above anything else and if the rule was violated you would be guaranteed to suffer great consequences. My father was a pastor, spiritual leader, and well liked among the Christian community in a somewhat large city in the South. When I was going through recovery early on I did some research on my family and traced the verbal and physical abuse in our household all the way back to my great grandfather on my father’s side of the family. I discovered that they were all public figures and well liked in their communities. Anyway I believe we all had one thing in common: low self esteem and being scared shitless about not being enough and being left to ourselves in the prison of lies that we were taught to believe about who we were. I accepted Christ at a young age and my father led me in the Sinner’s Prayer and then proceeded to teach me about a false God that demanded perfection. When you serve that kind of God you have no other choice but to create a false image so that you can survive an impossible life of performance and perfectionism. I was taught well!
- when was the first time in your marriage that you knew that you were at-risk for emotional & physical violence?
It was actually before I was married and during the engagement. My fiancé who later became my wife was studying in my apartment and accidently dropped her pen and got an ink blot on my over-stuffed chair and ottoman set. I became enraged that she could have been so negligent and yelled and screamed about the accidental mistake that I deemed as a direct attack against myself. I demanded perfectionism from myself and everyone that was a close friend or relative.
- share a little bit about the dynamics of shame and how they play a part in your story.
When I think of shame I think about it in the context of a fertilizer nourishing the seeds of destruction that the enemy sows into our hearts at a young age. Usually these seeds produce addiction that can later destroy our lives if we allow it and don’t reach out for help. There is a great movie out called Mr. Smith with Kevin Costner. There is one scene in the beginning of the movie when he is trying to kick his addiction, but his false self keeps nagging him about how much he needs it until he buys the lie and finally gives in. After he has acted out and is cleaning the evidence up he becomes greatly depressed that he has failed; his false self reminds him that he is what he has done and that there is no going back. To me that was what shame was for me. It was a death sentence that blinds you from who you are in Christ and what you will be in Christ. It is a very dangerous tool the enemy uses to keep us in bondage.
- how were you experiencing God in the midst of all of this?
My faith tells me from hindsight that He was there loving me every step of the way and very interested in what was best for me. The problem was I was only interested in a God of quick fixes; but he’s all about the process so he waited until it was painful enough for me to listen. My relationship with God was very manipulative. I lived with the “ If you….then I will” mentality. “God, if you will heal me, then I will be good.” As silly as it may sound that’s what it was all about, a very conditional relationship based on works. I don’t believe that is the God we serve though I still have tendencies to fall back into that frame of thought
- this is a hard question. how bad did it get in your house? who knew what was going on and what ended up happening?
It’s hard to remember anything but chaos whenever I went into a fit of rage. No one knew anything. My wife had told no one to my knowledge and was agreeing to our unspoken rule, which was ironicallyvery similar to the rule that I grew-up with; hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. But the truth was it was nothing but evil. I would verbally abuse with threats for the first three years and then in year four it escalated to throwing and destroying household property and things that she valued. Beating the dogs! Finally I grabbed her by the hair and drug her down a flight of stairs and then physically pushed her to the floor. I never hit her, but if she had stayed I am convinced that I would have eventually. By the grace of God for me and for her she left after that night. She moved out, never to return again. So if you are a woman in an abusive situation the best way you can love a man in that state of condition is to leave him, and not for a couple of weeks but for a nice, long chunk of time. You will find out if he is actually serious about changing during that time apart.
- what led you to reach out for help?
The grace of God and hearing my wife describe the man that she had been married to in divorce court. I wanted to change. I wanted to experience true love, and I knew that was never going to happen as long as I hid from the pain that throbbed inside of my heart. After she left I was all alone, so I really reached out for help in desperation.
- what started to shift in you, in your walk with God, with others, as you began the journey of healing?
I stopped lying! I became a truth teller no matter how hard it was and how much my pride was at stake. A very wise friend and counselor once told me that a half truth is a whole lie; that has stuck with me. As I told my story, began to be with other people being honest about their lives, too, I started to experience a freedom from the darkness that I had lived in for so long. Don’t get me wrong, I still struggled and it was incredibly painful; but I wasn’t alone anymore.
- what were some of the hardest parts to deal with?
Memories…grief….and the breaking of my heart.
- what has safe, redemptive community looked like, felt like, for you?
Oh community!!! I am glad you asked this question… I don’t believe we can survive without one another. I am not one to put a % on God and healing because that would be ridiculous, but I would say the majority of my healing has come from living in community. The deepest truths and the face of Christ has been shown to me through broken people searching for their true selves and whole hearts. Safe community is a place where I could go and be myself and share my thoughts or not say anything at all with out being fixed judge or asked to jump through some legalistic hoop.
- you are friends now with a lot of formerly abused women; what is healing about your relationship with them for you? for them?
For me–Acceptance of who I truly am. They help me to see it a little bit more clearly amidst the cloudiness of the shame of my past. For them?–I have never asked, but I have seen them shed tears of hope. They thank me for sharing my heart and something beautiful happens inside. I can’t explain it with words at this stage of my healing but I will tell you it is good whatever it is…
- step 9 of the 12 steps is making amends and asking for forgiveness. what has that process been like for you what has receiving forgiveness been like?
This is huge in the healing process. The greatest forgiveness that I have ever received is from myself. When you struggle with shame and condemnation the enemy can use it to continue to keep you in bondage, the enemy keeps reminding you of your past and you keep striving for the something different in the future. You fail to see the changes God is making in your heart in the present. There are a handful of different people that I hope to sit down with over a cup of coffee to share the beautiful things that God has done in my heart, one being my ex-wife. I have not been given that opportunity yet but I continue to wait patiently for God’s perfect timing. In the mean time I will continue to journey through the process of forgiving myself. I think the most amazing thing for me is sharing the really hard parts of my story and then watching an abused woman shed tears of hope that one day their husband or boyfriend might one day choose to journey down the same road as me. That’s forgiveness to me; everytime it happens the load gets lighter and I find a little more big T Truth about who Ian really is, forgiven, clean.
- what words of encouragement do you have for men out there who have abused or are abusing someone?
When I got divorced my wife sent my sister a letter. It basically said that I would never heal from the abuse from my childhood, and I would continue to be abusive because “hurt people hurt people”. The best that could ever result would be to mellow out in my later years—late 40’s or early 50’s, maybe but no guarantee’s. This came from a Christian counselor that had books to prove and back her counsel I accepted this as truth initially and gave up on myself, but then by the grace of God I was introduced to a man that believed in me and loved me. Hsaid that those theories were only theories and books and what Christ had for me would defy anything written by man’s simple minds. Then he gave me this verse and it has never left me to this day: Christ said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” It’s not sexy and it is very messy at times but I can see that it’s true; I can say I am not the same man I was 7 years ago. Christ truth can save you and don’t ever let anybody tell you different. Surround yourself with a loving community and the truth will penetrate your heart and you will see change eventually.
- what words of hope do you have for women currently in an abusive relationship or healing from one?
If you are currently in an abusive relationship right now please, please, please leave because it will not change. He will continue to abuse and if he tells you it is the last time I will tell you from experience and being the abuser it is not true. God will give you a way out, but you have to choose. My hope and my prayer is that you will. Paul says it is good to separated for a season; you need that time to heal and grow and develop strong boundaries. I would say the same thing that I said to the abusive men: stay in a community of loving and broken people and I believe you will start to discover and see glimpses of your true self. There will be much pain involved with recovery and the pull to drift from the path of healing, but stay close, don’t give up. Springs of life will come from that desert place of your heart and experience.
- your story is one of the most beautiful stories i have ever heard of redemption. what have you learned the most about God? yourself? relationships?
There are so many wonderful things that I have learned about this huge mass of love that chases me and you down daily in an almost ruthless like manner. There are so many things that I thought were true about God that I had to take a golf club to. I often find myself saying, “Who are you?” He is faithful to keep revealing little bits and pieces as I am ready to receive them. I think Mr. Beaver said it best in the book by C.S. Lewis, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Referencing Aslan, Mr. Beaver said, “’Course He is not safe, but He is good!”
thank you, ian, for your courage & heart to share with us. your journey is amazing & i know it will continue to stir up hope & healing for others. i also hope more and more men & women can find safe and redemptive community, a space to hear and feel and taste and see and experience God’s true heart for them, whatever that might look like.