THE CHRISTIAN CHRONICLE
Finding her voice: Abuse victim’s experience spurs ministry to others, as she urges church to speak out By Linda Ramirez | the Christian Chronicle
The climax came the night my ex-husband pointed a gun to my head and threatened to kill me. The police surrounded the house and he let me go. They moved all the guns out and made him go to counseling. I went to counseling as well. He only went for a while, but I stayed. Then I joined a co-dependent class for a year. The group gave me the strength to get a restraining order and force him to leave. Sojourn Services for Battered Women and Their Children in Santa Monica, Calif., gave me more strength, and I began attending Alcoholics Anonymous.
I was lucky. Many women get killed trying to leave an abusive relationship, and seldom do they get the kind of help and support Ifound. After 15 years of being physically and sexually abused – first in my parents’ home, then in my husband’s – I had literally lost the ability to speak. Choked by rage and fear, humiliation and shame, I tried to avoid people. I didn’t trust anybody, and I wouldn’t let anybody get close to me. My ex-husband was so controlling, it was hard to go any place by myself. I was filled with such shame, I wouldn’t let anyone be my friend or get close to me.
I started attending the Culver Palms church in Los Angleles, but when people would start hugging each other, I’d run out the back door. I didn’t have any self-worth or confidence. First, Vickie Knight, the preacher’s wife, was instrumental in helping me. She could always tell when something bad had happened. She sent me on a women’s retreat – I’d never been on one before – to a beautiful hotel by the beach. When the waiters brought the food around, I was worried because I didn’t have any money to pay for dinner. Sheila Bost, the wife of one of our elders, also helped me. When we the divorce, I was so ashamed that I stopped attending services. Sheila called. “We want you back,” she said. Finally, a Culver Palms family camp at Camp Tanda showed me what a family could be without all the drama of alcoholism. Billy Graham’s daughter, Ruth Graham, wrote a book, “There’s a Broken Heart in Every Pew.” Christians need to know that. Many people come to church overwhelmed with pain and needs. I was one, so I feel qualified to give this advice: When you see someone sitting by themselves, sit next to them. Be accepting, be a friend. Don’t be shocked. Don’t try to fix the problem. Don’t overreact. The person has enough shame without well-meaning Christians adding to it.
Women who are being abused are too embarrassed to mention the problem at church. Besides, a husband may appear to be the best person at church while acting like a monster at home. Churches seeking to help people in recovery should start with one Christian recovery program, then add a 12-step Bible study once a week.
In the broad sense, such recovery involves the workplace, drugs, the criminal justice system, alcoholism, halfway houses, medical treatment, support services, coaching, case management and the family. Abuse especially hurts teenagers. Kids from abusive families feel a lot of anger, and they don’t know how to express it. Therapy can be helpful. If teens don’t get the help they need, their anger comes out in drug abuse and behaviors that endanger themselves and other people. When I was being abused, I’d freeze and my voice would shut down. I went to counseling for that. I joined Toastmasters and even won some prizes for speaking. I became a trained hotline counselor for Los Angles Assault Against Women. A hotline counselor gives resources for the moment, but most people don’t understand that it might take four or five calls before the person is ready to leave the abusive situation. Now I have a strong voice to help people in difficult situations and to help the church minister to them in positive ways.
Through recovery, I’ve been finding my voice. Now the church needs to speak out on these problems that affect us all.
LINDA RAMIREZ has attended the Culver Palms church in Los Angeles for 24 years and volunteers for numerous community outreach projects.
Reared in New Jersey, she moved to Culver City, Calif., as a teen. A civilian worker for the Air Force, she has three daughters and eight grandchildren.