Helping women of faith find hope and healing after emotional and spiritual abuse

Sign up to get new articles and podcast episodes sent directly to your email inbox.

I will also send you a free PDF copy of the first chapter of my book, Is It Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage as well as the first chapter of the brand new companion workbook. It’s like a super-charged therapy session!

Divorce is Like Death

by | Apr 6, 2018 | Articles, Divorce, Emotional Abuse, Grieving | 31 comments

She had been fighting an unseen battle alone. When she went in to be checked, the “professionals” got the diagnosis wrong. So she continued to fade away, slowly, over the course of a very. long. time.

Oh, it wasn’t like she didn’t try. She went to professional after professional looking for help. She spent hours researching her symptoms and explaining them in every way she could think of so the professionals would have all the information. So they could have the best possible chance of putting the pieces together and solving the puzzle of her life.

But nobody could help her. In fact, they all sent her down painful rabbit trails, trying this medication and that natural remedy and this healthy life style practice and that Bible verse therapy. She tried Faith Healers and Bible Bangers and Spiritual Gurus. They all gave her lots and lots of advice.

And they all sent her away more confused than ever.

When she tried to tell her friends, they looked at her like she had a horn in the middle of her forehead. Some tried to tell her she was imagining things. They could only see her through the lens of their own experience. So she learned to keep her mouth shut and her head down. She’d have to deal with it on her own.

Once, she checked herself into a three-day “hospital” stay where a religious professional combed through every part of her body, unveiling the darkest parts of her soul. He pronounced her “healed” when it was over. And she left feeling better and hopeful. Until a few weeks later it all crashed in on her again, crushing her with a double load of pain. Instead of healing her, the religious professional had only severed something deep inside. Something that she couldn’t come back from.

She was bleeding out, now. It was just a matter of time. She could sense it. She began to prepare for the end. She put her finances in order. Got her kids set up with counseling. Read through the journals of her life, looking for clues. Wanting some kind of closure before the end.

The closure never came.

As the end drew near, she continued to make life work for her kids. She drove them, through the cold, grey world, to their jobs. To school. To therapy. To the doctor. To practice. To the store. She was numb now. Not really living, anymore – but doing what she could so her children could live.

Nobody saw her. Nobody wanted to. She was an outcast. A pariah. They whispered new names for her behind her back. “Rebel.” “Jezebel.” “Bitter woman.” “Unforgiving woman.” And they told their children they couldn’t play with hers.

She had never felt so desolate in all her life. So unloved. So worth absolutely nothing.

She had given up. It was over. And one day…

She filed for divorce.

Her death, relatively speaking, was just as slow as her terminal illness had been. She gasped for every bit of breath. She clutched at her stomach in agony. She writhed on the floor with her fists pounding into her head, hoping she could somehow speed it up and get it over with.

She screamed. But nobody heard her. She was alone in her terminal illness, and she would die alone as well.

Outside her death room, religious folks cursed her under their breath and gathered up the illness that had killed her—drew it up like a soft kitten, cuddling it and putting it in a cozy little box where it could stew and get strong again.  One day they would let it out to infect another unsuspecting soul.

Some of her children gathered around her, looking on in curiosity, not knowing she was dying. Some watched with suspicion, believing she had chosen to neglect them and commit suicide. Others wouldn’t even come into her room. They hung back with the crowd outside. Waiting for her to die. Silently cursing her, saying she was not the mother they thought she was – and they would have nothing to do with her in her death.

Finally, she breathed her last, and she was gone.

All was silent – and then the crowd outside rushed in to grab her body and fling it unceremoniously out the back door into a pile of garbage. “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!” some sang out. And they reached for the illness in the box and loved it.

Loved it for killing her.

One of her children came out to look at her body. He kicked her back—and then turned his.

Everyone walked away. Everyone disappeared. It was dark and silent on the garbage heap.

A figure quietly appeared and walked over to her still form. It bent over and reached out a gentle hand to touch her tangled hair.

Then, out of the silence—a sudden, desperate, loud gasp for air. A shudder ran through her body.

She was alive.

The figure gathered her up in His arms, cradling her like she was five years old. Back and forth, back and forth, He rocked her, whispering “I love you. I’ve got you. I love you. I’ve got you. Rest. Rest. Rest.”

And as they rocked, she felt something strong and powerful course through every nerve, every vein, every bone. She felt a growing urge to stand up and walk and run and jump and dance. The resting accepted, now she wanted to do more. She felt strong enough to fly. She believed she could actually fly – if she tried.

Laughter rippled through her lungs and broke out in waves of joy as she grabbed His hands and danced. He laughed with her. She was not alone! She was not dead! She was more alive than she had ever been before. The sickness was gone. Completely gone. And she was free. She was strong. She could fly!

So she decided she would. She would spread her wings and fly. She would fly free.

And she did.

Jesus said to her, “I am the one who brings people back to life, and I am life itself. Those who believe in me will live even if they die. John 11:25

P.S. I wrote this for every woman whose only way out of hell was divorce. I wrote this so you’d know you aren’t alone, and you are deeply loved, and your divorce doesn’t define you. Jesus defines you. He gives you back your dignity and your personhood, and anyone who tries to take that away from you isn’t working for Christ. They are working for the enemy of Jesus. You can (and should) safely ignore them.

31 Comments

  1. Judith

    I cried when I read the above situation.It sounds so like my own.People look at you as if your head is doing a 360…I have been working with the local domestic abuse shelter ,several agencies and the medical community..some of whom excluding the shelter think ..well I do not know what they are thinking but their actions speak louder than words.The local shelter has been forceful in the media especially with the recent murders despite restraining orders.Several so far this year.Leave? Where do I go with a medium size dog????The shelter is under going renovations and they will not be done until December.Mean time the religious community keeps the same “tape” going every time ..some days I want to just get into the car and drive God knows where because i don’t.I have felt so bad some days the only thing keeping me one day from walking out into the highway was the grand kids wanting me to watch them climb on play ground equipment.My handicapped son and my daughter’s family are what is keeping me going…..is there any hope ?

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      There is hope. You are loved, and you have purpose in this life. You don’t know what the future holds, but if you hang in there, you’ll find out. If there is any way to get away from anyone who is not supportive and kind, do it.

      Reply
  2. Susan

    ” He gives you back your dignity and your personhood, and anyone who tries to take that away from you isn’t working for Christ. They are working for the enemy of Jesus. You can (and should) safely ignore them.”

    Thank you so very much for writing this. This story brought me to tears, as I felt that I disappeared over the 18 year marriage. That marriage nearly destroyed me. My family discarded me and embraced my ex husband. That betrayal was crushing and shocking, especially since my ex husband barely knew them. He was convincing and charming. The stepmother who always hated me loved seeing me in pain and he knew how my father was emotionally cold and distant. He knew that my family would mock me and discard me if he worked them enough, because I was never treated well in my family. My feelings never mattered. I have been divorced since 2013 and I wish I could move ahead without any more pain. The pain will just not go away.

    Reply
  3. Ruby

    I hope this gives courage to those who are considering breaking away completely, but concerned on the effects it might have on their children: They will be so much better off in the end if you can do it earlier than later!!! I am almost 40 years old with several younger adult siblings. We’ve all been ravaged by decades of emotional, psychological, and spiritual abuse from my father. I wish we could have started our healing decades ago, when we were still kids, but we were so blind (thinking we were honoring God by honoring him) and my mom felt nothing could be changed (and no one would believe her if she did speak out) so we continued to live the public lie of being the “perfect” christian family, my father’s charm and skills of manipulation only became more perfected over the decades causing increased harm to the psyche and emotional development of my youngest siblings who were still at home. He tried to turn us against each other when we started to wake up to what was going on. and one by one stopped being his best buddy (almost everyone had a turn at some point or other). Though my mother has finally taken steps to at least physically separate, she still can’t seem to acknowledge how devestating the abuse really was to her (now grown) children. He still holds much control over her financially and legally. We’ve all decided that any connection to my father right now just keeps causing more damage, we’re done giving him any power over our minds and emotions. Staying connected just enabled him to stay broken and remain in denial. My mother’s inability to say “no more!” has made it very difficult to trust and support her because she starts to mirror the way our father treats us when she’s trying to justify her reasons for staying under his control. PLEASE help your kids to find freedom and healing early in their lives!!! Have courage!!! It’s really hard to relearn what’s “normal” when you’re 40.

    Reply
    • Rising

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I needed to hear that. Thank you so much.

      Reply
  4. Angie

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

    Reply
  5. Victoria

    Great read! I desperately want to fly, but the abuser threatens to take the children, even 50% of the time would kill them. How do I leave?

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Please contact the abuse hotline: thehotline.org – they will connect you with local resources. Also remember that while an abuser does a lot of threatening – most of the time, very little comes of their threats. That is not always the case, though, so please contact the abuse hotline for further guidance and help.

      Reply
  6. Meg

    This is such a terrible and beautiful story that has me in tears — tears because I have experienced so much of this, and tears for the beautiful description of our Savior’s love. It’s almost 5 years since I got away, and life is still so incredibly hard. I am still learning to rest, and I so badly want to fly. Thank you for your writing!

    Reply
    • Susan

      It is 5 years for me too. My ex husband who was an expert manipulator and emotionally abusive worked together with my brother, stepmother and father to ruin me. When my father died, the three banded together and spread lies about me. Their treatment of me was so unbelievable that their lies about me are easier for strangers to believe. They are “such nice caring people” to the outside world, and I am looked upon with scorn because of their slander. I really needed to read this because after 5 years, I found myself talking to a realtor who worked with my father and stepmother, and she was told many things about me (I don’t know what all was said), but I do know that they have been telling people that I am mentally not right. It is very, very painful, because there is no way to explain the impact that long term emotional abuse causes. It truly is insidious. The abusers get away with it because everyone else doesn’t see it. My father told me he didn’t care how my ex husband treated me. People just say, “That doesn’t sound like something your dad would say.” It is enough to make a person go mad. I am trying to move forward with my life, but this pain, which was cemented by my family’s betrayal of me after divorce seems to be too much to bear. I don’t know how I will ever recover.

      Reply
  7. Adrienne Masterson

    Thanks Natalie for this story. I have read it over and over again the past few days.

    A long story but–my sister found my mother dead (she was a narc victim) on the couch and left her there. She told the family she looked into the window and she was sleeping. She left and went home.

    I found her dead the next day.

    She was the child that in your story that kicked the mother and walked away.

    My mother was born in 1930 and as a victim of narc abuse, she was thrown into a mental ward in 1974 with the help of my Aunt and my other sister.

    Narc abuse kills .

    Thank you for your hard work on narc abuse. Knowledge is power.

    Love,
    Adrienne

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Wow – what a horrific story – and perfect example of how poisonous narc abuse is. You’re right. It does kill.

      Reply
  8. Heather

    And when your ex who was loved on by your church and community remarries you die all over again. He gets further love. Your dreams have already died but you are triggered. There is no justice in this lfe.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Not always in this life. But there will be justice. Mark His Words in Luke 18:

      Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
      2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.
      3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
      4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think,
      5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ ”
      6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.
      7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?
      8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

      Reply
  9. Tee3

    Thank you for your article. It’s spot on. I left the abuser two years ago after a marriage of 21 years. I’m glad I summoned the courage to leave. Now I’m flying free. Thank you for your encouraging words.

    Reply
  10. Vanessa

    Natalie, thank you for redefining this phase, this process, this resurrection to a new life. I do hate with all my soul the destruction I am knowingly causing to have a life to be free to be who God created me to be. Sounds kind of selfish but I am guessing that’s what I am to do if I take responsibility for me and set boundaries. This is all foreign territory.

    The way you described the child who stands back in the crowd or kicks you whether it’s figuitiv or literally that’s the way I feel in my heart when I look into the eyes of my children. I know they are hearing tails of the bad woman I am. Consequently, they don’t know quite how to speak up to say to the contrary because that would make their dad very angry. It’s hard to wait on the truth that they know to bring them back. I have thought so many times to just go away-they don’t need me. They have their Dad. They hate me. Yucky moments! Truth is they do need me but their hearts are broken too and are trying to make sense of it all too. Thanks for your writing your heart. Your words bless and refresh my being and soul. Vanessa

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I believe most of our children will come back one day. They need life experience. They need to walk their own journey to freedom from abuse and manipulation and mind games. In the meantime, it hurts like crazy. It’s one of the most horrible parts of leaving an abusive situation. Younger kids generally do better than older ones. I’ve seen that across the board – and it certainly played out in my own family as well. Hang in there – you are loved, and Jesus has your children, too. That is what I’m choosing to believe – and putting all my eggs in that basket, knowing Who Jesus is.

      Reply
  11. Kerry

    My story almost exactly and still dealing with ongoing smearing 7 years later.
    My family and friends group have almost disappeared and I still feel people talking about me.
    But do I care – not at all .
    I see some people for who they are – flawed and under satans wicked control.
    I have Jesus and that is enough..
    I live each day grateful I am alive and free .
    Free from the clutches of an evil man – my ex husband.

    Reply
  12. Lavonne

    You have no idea how desperately I needed to read this …today. But Someone knew. Thank you. I feel like I discovered an opening where I can put my nose (at least) and begin to breathe in healing, life-infusing air.

    Reply
  13. Kristine

    Natalie,
    You are an amazing woman! You have so helped me through the last year of my life! My husband had already left me “for another woman on the praise team, also married, whom he was having an affair” when I found your website. He married her 6 months after he left me (when our divorce was final). It has been one year in March since he left-Deliverance day for me!!! I was, like others, desperately searching the internet for any website that would help me make sense of it all, and heal! Your website has been very instrumental in doing that! It has been breath to my lungs. Guess what, my wings are outstretched now, and I am starting to fly, soar even!!! I am so excited about life, and what lies ahead. I have not felt like my Real Self, in 25 years! I am so glad She is back! But that poor, battered girl has some growing up to do, and I am helping her do just that! She is gonna make it!
    I appreciate you so much! When are you going to make t-shirts available with your beautiful logo????
    What a beautiful witnessing tool!! I want to wear a t-shirt with your bird logo to proudly declare my freedom from bondage! Love you lots! You are a HERO, you will see that in heaven, if not sooner!!!!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Well, THAT’s pretty encouraging! 🙂 I’m so glad you are finding joy in Jesus and the LIFE He has for you. That’s awesome. I love your t-shirt idea. I’ll have to look into that.

      Reply
  14. Sonya

    Awesome! Absolutely true. Thank you!

    Reply
  15. TANYA VIRGEN

    Omg!! This is brilliantly written it’s so how I felt, and still feel as my ex persecutes me opresses me and harasses me after I left him.

    Reply
  16. Jenny Mae

    Thank you. This is beautiful. For over three years I could not read the Bible. For lack of a better words, the words felt dead to me. My “Christian” ex-husband lied to me for over 24 years. Lied and cheated even before we were engaged. It’s a very long story of course, but December 2014 his mask finally fell off for good with me and it was like I was looking at evil; who he truly is scared me. He did a huge lie smear campaign behind my back even before I knew that he was going to do the final discard on me. We were in counseling with my now ex-pastor and the pastor kept taking his side even though the pastor denied it and said, “I’m for your marriage.” The pastor even lied to me three times and continues to deny he did anything wrong at all — I told the pastor off in the end. Yay me!

    This >>” and anyone who tries to take that away from you isn’t working for Christ. They are working for the enemy of Jesus. You can (and should) safely ignore them.” If you met my ex or the pastor, you’d think they were the best guys in the world! I now know when confusion and crazy-making behavior is present — Satan is at work. Thank you for your blog. I love it.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Yes! YAY YOU! Women who endure this kind of treatment are steel magnolias. Strong and beautiful. Keep using your voice, Jenny.

      Reply
  17. Deborah

    This is exactly my story. I have just spent a few hours with my (hopefully) soon to be x. It has been at least4 months…. since I have seen him. Married 42 excruciating years. I can’t believe how good I tried to be. I tried to make it work. The divorce is dragging on.. I do all I can to help it move along. My times are in God’s hands. He knows much more than I do about the whys of this situation and is in control of this hell. That is one thing that amazes me. While my h is wineing and dinning …taking trips , going to movies , watching porn and preaching. I am toiling away at fixing our house he left unrepaired. I have suffered from unbearable nerve pain for over25 years…. it is getting better… slowly. My desire from the age of 19 has been for my life to be so connected to Jesus Christ in order to enjoy him and share his love to others. Thank you for expressing with immense talent what women who are abused live,!!!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      “watching porn and preaching.” The perfect description of an abuser. I’m so glad you are almost dead – because life is on the other side. Life to the FULLEST, Deborah. That’s your God. That’s your King, Princess. Fly Free!

      Reply
  18. Rhonda Voss

    You got me with this one! I cried for you. I cried for me. I cried for every woman who has experienced exactly this response. and then….I cried in gratitude that Jesus was there and is there for us no matter what we have done and experienced. Thanks, Natalie for sharing your story and your great gift of words!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I’m glad it had that effect. I wish those on the outside could “see” this for what it is.

      Reply
  19. Debby

    In the last few years of studying domestic abuse websites trying to pull myself out of a 30 year fog, one of the things I noticed is that analogies are often the only way to really explain what is happening, especially when it is covert emotional, verbal abuse. I wrote an analogy 3 years ago and it took me not even 15 minutes, it poured out upon the page without need for editing or revising. It just was. I would like to share it with the Fly Free group but wanted to ask your permission first. It is called Car Trouble. Thank you for your continued wisdom and passion for those of us too long without a voice.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I love analogies for all the same reasons. I would love for you to share yours with the rest of us, Debby!

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.