I recall vividly the first time I tried to leave my abusive relationship with my first boyfriend.
We were driving home from church and I broke up with him in the car. He became angry, threatening to drive the car off the road and kill us both. So I did the logical thing and climbed out of the car at the next stop light.
I started to run away. I was sure I could out-run him and somehow find my way home once I had lost him…
That made things difficult. I thought of taking them off and running barefoot, but the sidewalk was, as is typical of Metro Detroit sidewalks, freckled with broken glass.
I felt crippled.
My abuser easily caught up with me, picked me up, thew me over his shoulder, and carried me back to the car, reclaiming his property.
I hadn’t been able to escape that day, because, in a literal sense, I hadn’t been standing on equal ground with my abuser.
And I stayed with him for another two months, because I wasn’t standing on equal ground with my abuser in a metaphorical sense.
I grew up in a church and Christian school that taught me some unhealthy things about what it meant to be a woman. And my perceived definition of womanhood was, like my high heels, crippling.
I had learned that, as a lowly female, I was nothing without a man. I could not give anything to the world. I could only receive. I could not have a voice. I could only ask a man to speak for me. I could not stand up for myself. I could only submit to male leadership. Even my goals and dreams needed a man, because, as my church and school constantly reminded me, my “highest calling” as a woman was to be a wife and mother.
And I couldn’t find a better man. I had already given my body to my abuser (not to mention, I had been sexually abused as a child. My abuser was constantly reminding me of how “merciful” he was for being with me, even though I was “damaged goods”). And I had learned that a woman’s greatest gift is her virginity. Without that, I was a used toothbrush. A crashed car. Who would want me? No, I thought I had gotten the only man that my used body could afford.
In order to escape that relationship, I had to take off the lies, the metaphorical high heeled shoes that were keeping me from being on equal ground with my abuser. I had to put on some (pardon the cheesiness) tennis shoes of truth.
I have my mother to thank for my freedom.
I remember once my father saying, “If you get yourself knocked up, you have to marry the guy!” Crippling lies.
My mother refuted his suggestion, confidently and forcefully reminding me that no mistake I could make should make me the property of a man. Tennis shoes of truth.
A Sunday School teacher told me not to go to college. He told me that if my career goals distracted from my desire to be a housewife and mother, they were evil. Crippling lies.
My mother, upon hearing about this, reminded me that (as much as she wanted to be a grandmother) I was under no obligation to have a husband or children. And that, even if I decided to have children, I could still be whatever I wanted to be. I could be a mother AND a doctor, or a lawyer, or a college professor. Tennis shoes of truth.
I escaped my abusive relationship, not only because I found another opportunity to run (and that time I had tennis shoes on!), but because I had finally learned that I had some thing to run to.
Without the lies and shoes that were crippling me, I could finally face life without the man that I thought I needed. I no longer had to cling to my abuser like a crutch. And once I could stand on equal ground with him, I could hope for a fulfilling life without him.
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