Paula on the Living Full Out Radio Show with
I lived in domestic violence for 11 years. I was abused in many ways and my self-worth, confidence, and value had completely depreciated. I believed I was nothing.
Then, I got out.
Since getting out, I went back to school and became a Social Service Worker as well as a Licensed Paralegal. I also graduated with a Master of Theological Studies degree from Seminary along with a Graduate Certificate in Biblical Care and Counselling.
I experience healing from my past every day. I joined Celebrate Recovery in July of 2015 and it is helping me recover from my hurts, hang ups, and habits.
I am living proof that YOU CAN MAKE IT! The journey is difficult, the road has ups and downs, but being out of the car is totally worth it!
More of my Story:
The very first decision made about my life was made by God. He decided to create my life.
My father made the second decision. He decided I should be aborted.
My mother made the third decision. She decided to keep me.
The most important decision I made for myself was when I was 4 years old. It was the day I walked to the altar at a mid week children’s program and I gave my heart to Jesus.
I never lived with my father. In fact, I have never even met him. Until I was 16 years old, it was just my mom and I. We lived with my grandparents in Labrador when I was really young. Like many of the houses in our little town, we did not have running water. We hauled water from the well, used the outhouse, and had baths in the washtub after boiling water on the woodstove. I didn’t have my father in the picture, but my grandpa took on that fatherly role and I was cared for and loved by him. Poppy, as I called him, was the first dad I ever knew. During those years when my lifelong foundation was being formed, Poppy would spend time with me, teach me about Jesus, and take care of me. God placed Poppy as the first male role model in my life.
I was a happy child. I always did well in school and it appeared as though everyone around me loved me. I felt like I was a natural leader, full of confidence, and I believed I could do anything. Even when I was bullied at school, I didn’t let that get me down. We lived in Newfoundland for a couple of years, and then moved to Saskatoon where we stayed for four years.
When I was 13 years old, we moved back to Newfoundland. That is the year I was sexually assaulted for the first time and that changed everything.
When this older boy first started showing me attention, I thought it was pretty cool. It wasn’t long before things got inappropriate and he assaulted me on several different occasions. He was the first guy I ever had a power struggle with. And, he won. He took my power from me. I reported the abuse to the police, and he was sentenced to two years probation. Being that I lived in a small town, there was no proper counselling available, and news travelled quickly. I became the girl who reported this guy for sexual abuse. When I was bullied because of it, it didn’t roll off easily anymore. I felt depressed on the inside, but I had to keep up my happy appearance on the outside. This conflict between how I felt and how I acted, joined with the guilt and shame of being assaulted, made me consider suicide on a regular basis. I really needed help, but there was nowhere to get it.
This sexual abuse, and losing my power, set the tone for my life when it came to relationships with men. I was taken advantage of on several occasions because I had no power. It was like going to a sword fight without a sword. My power sword was taken from me in grade eight, and every intimate situation I was in after that, I was the one without a sword. That left me surrendering to men because they were the ones with the weapon. I did what was necessary to survive – I couldn’t fight, so I would freeze or take flight.
When I was 16 years old, my mom got married and we moved to Northwestern Ontario. On the drive there, it was my turn to sit in the front seat while journeying through Montreal. I had such an intense fear of men that all I could do was grip the door handle. I was so panicked just being near my future dad that I didn’t know how I was going to actually live with him. Along with a dad, I also gained three stepsisters. That first year was crazy! The four of us girls were all teenagers, and there was only one bathroom. Let’s just say I was thrown into a major learning curve!
When I was 19 years old, I started Bible College. The day before I moved into dorm was the day I met the guy I was going to marry. We got engaged only 3 months after meeting, and we were married 7 months after that.
Our first big fight happened after dating for only a month. We attended a Hokus Pick concert and on our way back from the concert we started arguing. I don’t remember what the fight was about, but my ex was yelling at me in the car. When we got back to the school, I immediately got out of the car and headed straight upstairs to my room. Our dorms were separated into male and female sides, so my ex could not follow me upstairs. I heard him yelling, “Come down here” and “I want to talk to you” but I went to my room. I was scared and upset that he was yelling at me. After a few minutes, one of the girls from dorm came to my room and told me that my ex was downstairs looking for me and that he asked her to come up and get me because he wanted to talk to me. Eventually, I went back downstairs. He said, “Let’s go to the car and talk.” I was apprehensive, but I decided to go hear him out. As we walked out the door, I said something to him that I had never said to any other human being in my life... “Just don’t hit me.” He responded with, “I would never hit you.” And, he didn’t. At least, not until after we were married.
From the night of the concert to the day we got married, I fell more and more into the cycle of abuse with each day. My ex did not hit me, but he used manipulation and power and control to get me to do anything that he wanted. I slowly lost my voice as I began not saying or doing things that would upset him. I believed that he would change once we got married. The only thing that changed with “I do” is that I was officially his property and he could do whatever he wanted to me whenever he wanted to do it.
It wasn’t long before he was yelling at me, belittling me on a regular basis, swearing at me, manipulating me, and controlling my actions. I was moved to a town where the only people I knew were his friends. And, only a couple of weeks after the wedding, he hit me for the first time.
These abusive behaviours continued throughout our marriage. When our daughter was 5 months old, she woke up in the middle of the night. After feeding her, I was exhausted and got back in bed. My ex tried to initiate sex, but I said “no” because I was so tired. He got angry that I rejected him, punched me in the leg, and left the room.
I never said “no” again.
I was 24 years old when we had baby number 2. He was a planned c-section because he was breech. Since I had to have surgery for his delivery, I insisted on getting my tubes tied at the same time. The Doctor was very hesitant to do the procedure because I was so young. Finally, we convinced her to do it. I never told her what the real reason was for so desperately wanting my tubes tied. That reason was that I did not want to bring any more children into our dysfunctional home. I needed to be sure that no more children would be hurt by him.
The abuse and manipulation got so bad that I felt like I was losing my mind.
I couldn’t handle life anymore, I was angry a lot, and I did not like the person I had become. Things got so bad that I would often try to figure out how I could drive my car into an oncoming transport truck and make it look like an accident so that no one would know that I did it on purpose. When I found myself sitting in front of the tv, completely zoned out to escape from my life, that’s when I went to a Doctor and was diagnosed as bipolar. Unfortunately, I was not forthcoming about the situation at home, and that is what led to the mis-diagnosis. I showed the signs of bipolar because of all the mental games my ex would use to control me. My whole life was built completely and co-dependently around him.
The promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13 is what helped me hang on as long as I did. It says, “No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.”
That wrong bipolar diagnosis turned out to be the starting point of leaving the abusive marriage. After a few months on mood stabilizers and anti-depressants, I started seeing that the home my children and I were living in was destructive. One morning in November of 2008, a bill collector called, which was common in our house. My ex left me in charge of paying our bills, but would then be angry if there was no money left over. However, he would also be angry if I didn’t pay the bills and the collectors were calling. I literally could not win. Anyway, back to the morning in November... after I hung up with the collector,my ex and I were picking out clothes for the kids and arguing about the bills. He was angry, and he shoved me. That was the breaking point. I told him that that I couldn’t stay in the relationship any longer. I called my mom and the kids and I moved in with my parents for the next few weeks. I got counselling, but, again, I was not forthcoming about the physical violence in my marriage. On December 30th, 2008, the kids and I moved back in with my ex.
The first few months were pretty good. We decided to go into Pastoring, and moved to my parent’s town. We renewed our wedding vows and starting youth pastoring. I believed that everything was finally going to change and that we would have the life I always dreamed of having.
However, that was not the case.
My daughter confided in the pastor of our church about how her dad was treating the kids when I was at work. On top of that, my ex threatened to physically injure the pastor, and confessed to a secret pornography addiction. On June 10th, 2010, I went to the police and, for the first time, I disclosed the abuse that was happening to the kids and to me. My ex was arrested that morning, and we have not been together since.
I would like to tell you that everything miraculously got better after the kids and I got out, but that is not the case. The denomination that I had poured 30 years of my life into disowned me, we had to spend time in a Woman’s Shelter, and my emotions were very unstable. I felt alone, rejected, and incapable of making any decisions on my own.
My life was unmanageable. I kept trying to do things my way. There were barriers I created between God and me, such as unrepentant sin, that kept me believing that He did not want to hear my prayers or bless anything I did. I was failing to believe some verses found in Romans 8 that I've known since I was a teenager. It says, “Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture... None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing – nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable – absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”
Despite the fact that my church family turned away from me and I was no longer allowed to be involved in ministry, I still continued to go to church as often as I could. I attended a small church in our community, and sometimes I would drive an hour to attend a bigger church. When we moved to Waterloo five years ago, the first thing on my list to do was to find a church that teaches the true message of Jesus, and had opportunities for the kids and I to get involved. Regardless of what was done to me, I could not give up on fellowshipping with other believers, and I certainly couldn’t give up on God. He was faithful through every single circumstance in my life. I believe that He wants the best for me, and I didn’t turn away from that. For a long time, I “acted” the part of the good Christian, but inside I was a mess. I used food as a way to numb my feelings and most nights would be spent at home, isolating myself from people.
By the time I first walked through the Celebrate Recovery doors in July of 2015, I was completely disconnected from my feelings, I kept people at arm's length, I thought I would never be good enough to have an intimate relationship with God. I had no experience with a 12-step program, and I didn’t have a particular “addiction” that I could focus on, but I knew this was the place I needed to be.
On my first night at CR, I had no idea what was going on and what to expect. I showed up for dinner and sat at a table alone because I didn’t know anybody. Before we even lined up to get our meal, someone asked me to join her table. At first I rejected her and said, “No, I’m fine.” She responded with, “Either you come join our table or I will join you.” I didn’t want her to leave her friends, so I agreed to sit with them.
One of the things that kept me coming back was that I got involved right away. I started playing the keyboard with the worship team only a couple of weeks into my recovery. Another element was the relationships I started making right from the beginning. The biggest piece was that God would reveal things to me about myself every time I heard a teaching or a testimony or other women in open share group.
During my first year of CR, I mostly coasted along. I attended every week, engaged in the Large Group time, and participated in open share, but because I was so emotionally closed off, I didn’t take the step of developing an accountability team or finding a sponsor. I worked on little things in my life, like cutting out Tim Hortons, and going to the gym on a regular basis. I allowed myself the time and grace instead of pushing for something I wasn’t ready for. During that year, I learned a lot, met a lot of people, and opened myself up to what God was going to in my life. I call my first year of CR a preparation year.
On the first Friday night of September 2016, we had guest leader for our open share group. After completing our first question, she then asked a question that would initiate my first CR trigger and jumpstart my recovery. She asked, “What hurt from a past relationship are you holding on to?” My first thought was, “I am not holding on to anything from my relationship with my ex.” Then, within moments, my insides started to shake, the tears were burning my eyes, and I couldn’t even speak properly when my turn came. Clearly this was a deep hurt that I had been denying for years and that God now wanted me to work on.
That’s when I began to truly work my recovery by processing and allowing myself to be open and honest. Attending and working a Step Study is when recovery got real for me. It required taking a deep look at who I was and how I got there. At first I didn’t get it. I would answer my questions at home, go to a place with a group of women I didn’t know, and read aloud all the things I didn’t want to admit to myself, let alone anyone else. But, I kept going back. As I worked the program, I discovered that the program works. It is proof of what the Bible says in James 5:16, “Confess your sins to one another and you will be healed.” I developed relationships with women who accepted me, even though most of things they knew about me was my dirt. They heard all about the not-so-pleasant things in my life before anything else. They challenged me to push harder and go deeper. I built connections with them on a level that I didn’t even know was possible. They are sisters in my forever family.
It was during Step Study where the rubber met the road. I learned what the Steps and Principles mean and how to apply it to my life. In September of 2016, God gave me my first accountability partner. In December, I gained a sponsor. In March, my emotionally tough exterior collapsed and I started allowing myself to be vulnerable. And, all the while, God was showing me areas of my life where I needed Him to help me. And, believe me, there IS a lot. Notice I didn’t say, “There was a lot?” That’s because I have realized that recovery is a journey. There will always be something that I need to work on. And, that is great news. You know why? Because I never want to stop attending CR. It is the place where I feel most at home. I don’t have to pretend I am happy when I am not. When people here ask, “How are you?”, they genuinely want to how I am doing. This atmosphere of realness is something I have not found anywhere else.
Through this program, God is teaching me how to go to Him when I need to make a decision instead of turning to unhealthy options. He is restoring my self-confidence and He has given me a dream for my life – something I never thought I would be able to do. God says in the book of Joel that He will make up for the years of the locust, that I’ll be full of praises to Him – the God who has set me back on my heels in wonder. “In wonder” is where I find myself quite often. I naturally analyze and process things everywhere I am. As I do that, I think about how much God has changed me since I made the decision to turn my life and will over to His care. I no longer have to sneak around, my kids can have my cell phone password because there is nothing inappropriate on it, and I don't have to lie about who I was with and what I was doing. He is giving me my life back. God is setting me free.
Another change God has made in me is that He has taken away the shame associated with staying in an abusive marriage for 11 years. He has turned that shame into a desire to teach people about domestic violence and to share my experiences with men and women and give them hope. Kathe Wunnenberg says it this way, “Sometimes we go through what we go through to help others go through what we went through.” That is the prayer for my life.
There is only one Person who I can give the credit for the changes and healing that have occurred in my life, and that is my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To think that He looked at my life, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the detestable, and still loved me so much that He would sacrifice His own life on a cross for my sin, sets me back on my heels in wonder every single day. Jesus sees that I mess up frequently, and yet He still chooses to do life with me. And, He wants the same for you. He longs to do life with you. John 17:3 says that eternal life is knowing God and knowing Jesus. That’s relationship. The Creator of the universe died so He could have a relationship with you. If you would like to know more about Jesus, please talk to someone.
I leave you with this verse from Philippians chapter 2 verse 13: “For God IS working in you (not “was” or “will be” but IS working in you), giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.”