A Friend’s Testimony on Domestic Violence?

We are called upon to love the loveless and the unlovable, to reach out to the racists and the torturers, to all who hurt and damage, cripple and kill. . . . God, through us, and in many other ways, offers them healing love and divine pity and takes their hurts away.

Friends have accused me of wearing rose-colored glasses when it comes to my interactions with other people. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a champion of the underdog and have attempted to befriend people that others told me to avoid. Oftentimes this has led to interesting and meaningful interactions. For example, as a junior in college, I remember noticing Leland, who always sat alone in the cafeteria. My friends joked about his dirty hair and his wire-rimmed glasses that were often taped and always sat skewed on his face at odd angles. One day, I decided to go and sit by him, mostly because it broke my heart to see him alone day after day. When I placed my tray down next to him, a look of welcoming surprise came to his face. I’m not sure how it happened, but we ended up having a wonderfully stimulating conversation on the individuality of snowflakes.

When I began attending Quaker meetings in my 20s, I was immediately drawn to the idea of that of God in every person. Without being aware of it, I had been living that testimony all my life. My personal belief was fed by what I heard in meeting and what I read in Quaker publications. Seeking the light in all people has led to some wonderful relationships. Unfortunately, that mindset also facilitated my staying in an abusive marriage and rationalizing as normal behavior what I clearly should have known was not.

For 13 years I convinced myself that my husband was just "really smart" so he didn’t have any social skills, or that he had "lots of stress at his job, and could only vent at me." He had the light of God in him, and it was up to me to find that light and remove the proverbial bushel. I just had to work harder at finding that elusive light. Until he hit me with his fists, I dismissed all the concerns I had about our relationship by simply excusing every behavior that struck me as out of the ordinary. Despite a gut feeling to the contrary, I saw myself as insane, ungrateful, and inept. I spent time in meeting contemplating ways to try a little harder, cook a little better, or focus on his needs more, so that I could find a way to stop the yelling and the put-downs.

As I tried to save my marriage, I tried all of the conflict resolution skills I had learned as a teacher in a Friends school. I tried negotiating a mutually acceptable dinner time—any deviation by two minutes was punished by dinner being thrown on the floor and my husband storming out. I tried saying no to forced sex in a number of different ways—I was told I had to perform my "wifely duties." I tried marital counseling and he told the counselor to "fix me and make me into a better wife and mother."

After all that I was fortunate that my therapist, who I started seeing because I was suffering from depression, referred me to a counselor with experience dealing with domestic violence. In my counseling sessions one of the most difficult things for me to get past was the fact that, at least for the time being, "that of God" had been completely eclipsed in my husband. After months of intense therapy, I realized I needed to save myself and my children—I needed to get out.

As I continue to work through my recovery and stop being a victim, I am realizing I am not alone. I am well-educated with a professional job, but abusers are not always beer-drinking guys who beat their wives bloody, as is portrayed in the media. Unbeknownst to many, there are Friends in our meetings with partners who are destroying their innermost spirits. As another domestic violence survivor recently said to me, "It was easier when he hit me—there are casts for a broken bone. There is no cast for a broken spirit."

Now when I go to meeting, I use the time in contemplation to feed and replenish the fire I envision in my own belly. I realize that there are times when that Light is eclipsed in people and only they can rebuild their own fire. I wonder why, in all the statements on the Peace Testimony on the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting website that deal with violence, I couldn’t find one that even brushed on the topic of domestic violence. This omission has led me to ask fellow Friends to reach out on a First Day and be sure a neighbor isn’t struggling with a broken soul. Perhaps it’s time for Friends to include in their peace vigils for Iraq and Afghanistan, Friends sitting next to them on a First Day who might be experiencing a violence that they hope fellow Friends will never know.

Note: we are publishing this anonymously to protect the identity of the author. —Eds.