Thursday, October 14, 2004

Invisible Scars

“And this you do with double guilt; you cover the altar of the Lord with tears [shed by your unoffending wives, divorced by you that you might take heathen wives]…
Therefore take heed to yourselves, and let no one deal treacherously and be faithless to the wife of his youth.”
~ Malachi 2:13, 15b

Invisible Scars
By Eileen Umbehr

Invisible scars
No one sees
Don’t appear

Invisible scars
Internal pain
Lasting wounds
Love in vain

Invisible scars
Blows to the soul
Knives in the heart
No longer whole

Invisible scars
Though not seen
Invisible scars
Last eternally

Last Tuesday, the Oprah show dealt with the silent shame of emotional abuse. The show was based on an article that appears in a recent edition of O Magazine titled “She’s come undone” which featured Susan Weitzman, author of, Not to People Like Us”; Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages.

Ms. Weitzman stated that one out of three women live in a marriage where they are verbally abused and emotionally tortured. After years of being called unspeakable names and constantly being ridiculed, the victim eventually becomes fragmented. Many women think that if they don’t talk about the problem, then it will just go away.
Ms. Weitzman referred to these women as being “hooked on hope.”

When the woman does try to assert herself by telling her abuser how his verbal attacks make her feel, she is often called a “cry baby” and told that she should “toughen up” or “get a grip.” She may also be told she is too sensitive or even selfish. “It’s all about you, isn’t it?” is a common phrase used by abusive men.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly perverse and corrupt and severely, mortally sick! Who can know it…?

I, the Lord, search the mind, I try the heart, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.”
~ Jeremiah 17:9, 10

As most of you know, my sister Mary endured 25 years in an abusive marriage. Many years ago she opened up to me and described the vile names her ex-husband called her on a regular basis. When she told him that one particular name was especially painful, that was the name he called her even more often. When she made a mistake he would tell her she was an idiot. If something spilled in the refrigerator, he called her a slob. One time she gave him a piece of cheesecake with raspberry topping on it and he complained because he had asked for a “dollop” of topping and apparently Mary hadn’t put the “proper” amount on. “Don’t you know what a dollup is?” he asked, incredulously. Then he got up from his chair and fixed himself another piece of cheesecake. “Now that’s a dollup!” he explained. (Now, if that had been my husband, I think he would’ve been wearing that dollup.)

Another thing he used to do was sit in his easy chair and hold three or fingers in the air, indicating the number of freeze pops he wanted his daughter to bring him. One day she was busy and told him she would get them for him in a minute. He got so angry that he started counting down out loud, dropping one finger at a time until only the middle finger was left in the air.

On New Year’s Eve, 1999, Mary bought some nice steaks and crab legs for a special dinner to celebrate the millennium. Her husband was cooking the crab legs in the kitchen while she went outside to light the grill. Well, the grill didn’t light for one reason or another and Mary didn’t realize it until they sat down to eat and discovered the steaks weren’t done. Her ex-husband berated her for 45 minutes over that one innocent mistake. At first I thought she said he mocked her for “4 to 5 minutes” – which would have been bad enough – but she corrected me and said it was forty-five minutes. “How could you be so stupid? Our meal is ruined now – we might as well throw the crab legs down the drain!” he said. “You are so stupid! Even the kids could have gotten that right!” Mary was in tears. She said it felt like he was poking her repeatedly with ice picks. So don’t tell me that verbal abuse isn’t as bad as physical abuse.

One of the guests on Oprah’s show (whose husband called her “pathetic” and many other names that had to be bleeped out), said that sometimes she wished her husband would hit her so she’d have a reason to leave. She swore that she would never stay under those circumstances. Many men realize there would be serious consequences if they ever hit their wives, so they use words as their weapons of choice to inflict pain. Yet all too often these situations escalate from verbal abuse to physical violence. Either way, it’s all about control.

After this same man viewed a videotape showing the appalling way he treated his wife, he seemed completely shocked by his own behavior, as if he were watching a video of some total stranger. When Oprah asked him if he loved his wife he answered emphatically, “Yes, I do….very much.”

Well, I don’t care what anybody says – that’s not love.

Have you ever heard the expression, “Silver-tongued devil?” It’s used to describe men like this who could charm the skin off a snake when they’re out in public, but heaven help their wife and kids when they pull in the drive. Then, when the wife finally decides she’s not going to put up with it anymore and files for divorce, everyone is scratching their heads and wondering what’s wrong with her. The only side they’ve ever seen is the side he shows his adoring public. “He wouldn’t hurt a flea,” they say. Well maybe not, but behind closed doors he’ll devastate the one person he vowed to love, cherish and protect until death do them part.

Although these abusive men may fool a lot of people, they’re not fooling God. The Bible says that you can tell a tree by its fruit and “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

“The good man from his inner good treasure flings forth good things, and the evil man out of his inner evil storehouse flings forth evil things. But I tell you, on the day of judgment men will have to give account for every idle…word they speak.” ~ Matthew 12:33-36

In other words: evil fruit – evil root.
Journalist and author Michele Weldon wrote a book titled I Closed My Eyes describing her experience as a battered woman. Unfortunately, many women choose to wear blinders and hang on to a fantasy, rather than dealing with the prospect of being divorced and alone, struggling to make ends meet and having their children come from a broken home.

Although I’ve never walked in their shoes, I have great compassion for women who are suffering from any type of abuse. I yearn to tell them that they deserve better – that they have a right to be treated with dignity and respect. It doesn’t make you a failure to walk away from an abusive situation. And please don’t think you’re doing your children any favors by staying in an abusive marriage. If the only behavior they witness in the home is verbal and physical abuse, then they will regrettably learn two very destructive lessons: 1) that it’s okay to treat other people like that and, 2) that it’s okay for other people to treat them like that.

In my opinion, it’s better for your children to be raised in a loving, peaceful home with a single parent, than to live in constant turmoil and fear – wondering when the next volcano is going to erupt. As Dr. Phil says: Children would rather come from a broken home than live in one.

This is a poem I wrote based on actual comments my sister’s 11-year-old son made about his relationship with his dad.

He calls me son
By Eileen Umbehr

When I get hurt and cry, my dad laughs at me and calls me a woosy (to my face).
My mom says she is so sorry.
I tell her, “Its okay, Mom. You didn’t do it.”
Sometimes I get worried because they say that girls turn out to be like the moms and boys turn out to be like the dads.

Mom tells me I need to remember how it feels so I won’t do the same things to my children.
I don’t ever want to do the same things to my children.
One time my dad told me I could have anything I wanted for my birthday. I said I just wanted him to play one-on-one basketball with me.

That was five years ago.
My friends’ dads play catch with them. For as long as I can remember, I’ve asked my dad to play catch with me. But he always says, “I’m too busy, son. Maybe tomorrow, son.”

Then when tomorrow comes I ask,
“Don’t you wanna play catch with me, Dad?”
And he says, “Not today, son. I’m too tired, son.”
He calls me son…..but he’s not really a dad.


Finally, I’d like to close with this poem I wrote three years ago about my sister’s abusive marriage. I know I’ve shared it before, but I think it bears repeating.

For My Sister’s Sake
By Eileen Umbehr

My sister’s in a marriage –
if you can call it that,
Her husband is so mean to her,
he tells her she’s ugly and fat.

He never shows her any signs
of kindness, love or affection,
Nothing she does ever meets
his standard of perfection.

He yells at my sister day and night
because the house isn’t clean,
Believe it or not, he even complains
about water spots on the washing machine!

When my sister makes an honest mistake
he mocks her and calls her stupid,
I don’t know where this guy came from
but it certainly wasn’t from Cupid!

Even their kids have noticed the fact
that their dad’s not a very nice fella,
They don’t like how he bosses their mother around
as if she were Cinderella.

When times were tough, as they often were
and his insults pierced her heart,
She took a deep breath and told herself
that this was the “for worse” part.

She wanted to keep her family intact
so she fought with all that she had,
She tried to focus on the good
and overlook the bad.

But recently she discovered
that her suspicions about him were true,
It seems there were three people in the marriage
instead of the traditional two.

Now, whether her life as a single mom
will be an improvement, there’s no guarantee,
But for my sister’s sake, I hope she takes that chance
at least then she will finally be free

“You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away. And your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning. And you will have confidence, because there is hope.”
~ Job 11:16-18 (RSVB)