By Jenn Rockefeller
“When I realized the difference between my daughter and I [sic], she forgave [her abuser] and became a survivor immediately. I am no longer a victim and no longer let it rule my life.”
Those are the words of a victim turned survivor. Those are the words of a woman who endured hardship after hardship and still found the strength to carry on. Those are the words of Lisa, a multiple abuse survivor. You see, Lisa sustained experienced abuse during her childhood that bled into marrying back-to-back abusers.
Lisa grew up with violence in the home. Her mother “felt it was her duty to give my dad children” and resented being a mother. Lisa recalls her mother once saying to her and her sister, “You two were a mistake.”
Lisa’s father was nearly an absentee father, as he was in the military and was usually only around one or two weekends every month.
“I basically grew up without a dad,” said Lisa. “And so as an adult, I was looking for that father figure and stability and acceptance and love. And unfortunately, I grabbed on to the first guy to give me attention. I had no clue what guys were about. I had a very distorted view of a role that a woman plays in a marriage.”
According to domesticshelters.org, domestic abuse statistics run high amongst military families. Between 2003 and 2010, intimate partner violence rose by 177% in the Army.
Three out of Lisa’s four marriages to members of the military were abusive.
She met her first husband while at Fort Benning and they married six weeks later. “We married on September 6 and by Thanksgiving, he was abusing me,” she recalled.
She went on to say that when she broke things off with him, she tossed the ring in an open window in his car. During a dinner date with another man in her military unit, the first husband had approached them and “beat up” her date. This led to the first husband being court-martialed. Lisa learned years later during her son’s court case that her first husband admitted he only married Lisa in hopes that she would not testify against him during his court-martial.
Lisa’s second marriage was also filled with abuse; however, as Lisa put it, it was more emotional abuse. Lisa and her son from her first marriage followed this husband to Germany where he was stationed. Lisa explained that her husband was jealous that she was singing in a band. The band members, she noted, were black and her husband was paranoid because she had “married black before.”
“It became a serious issue with him. He wanted me to lie about my son’s heritage,” she said. The abuse escalated further when her husband became physically abusive to her son. “My son had peed on him, so he took [my son] into the bathroom and locked the door. He belted him with his hand. I threatened to call the cops, and he grabbed me by the throat.”
The jealousy was always an issue with him, she explained. “We went through boot camp together. I was a squad leader. He was the guy always in trouble. He had no discipline while I had enough for everybody. He resented that because he was in with a few stripes and I was in as an E4. I made rank faster and he was jealous.”
Lisa was unmarried for eight years until her third husband. She stressed that this marriage was not abusive in any manner. The marriage ended when he was stationed in Germany, and Lisa and her children could not follow. “He cheated on me within three months of arriving in Germany,” she said.
Lisa married her fourth husband about two years after divorcing the third. “There were no issues in the beginning. I thought I found someone to finally be a decent husband.”
But problems began to arise, she explained.
Lisa explained that her husband was one of 10 children growing up and she believes that contributed to how he treated her. Lisa had been married to him for a total of 20 years, with the divorce finalized in July 2018. During the last seven years of the marriage, however, she said he was dealing with his Parkinson’s Disease. “He was delusional and had made accusations about affairs,” she said, adding that the marriage was also riddled with emotional and financial abuse.
Her husband was spending $600 a week on lottery tickets due to his “bad gambling habit,” so all of the bills fell to Lisa to cover. He kept his financial information from Lisa, so she never knew how much he was making and if he could contribute to the household.
“I would consider this last marriage abusive too,” she said, adding that he was also controlling, in addition to the financial and emotional abuse. “I married multiple abusers.”
Lisa said she felt she “had a target” on her forehead and drawn to the same kind of person.
On being a survivor
For many, dealing with life during and after abuse is enough to make them give up, but not Lisa; she kept pressing on. “I did the best I could,” she said.
Lisa said that she had no point of reference for being a good mother due to her own upbringing. She said her daughter Audrey once told her that she stopped looking at Lisa as a mother who made mistakes and instead looked at her as a human being with flaws. Lisa struggled to provide for her children, having to work three jobs with no car. “They didn’t have an easy life, but they knew I loved them.”
On resources available then versus now
When Lisa was in the military, there weren’t many resources available to her. All she had was “his chain of command” and, as any military wife knows, when her military husband is “disciplined,” all that is done is he is sent to the barracks for a night to “cool off.”
“Or I’d go to a shelter and they weren’t equipped to take in many people back then. There were no advocates, as the legal system was not trusting of those of us who were being victimized. There were very few shelters and [you were] lucky if you had a blanket. [There was] no help as far as the legal system. Back then, they looked at victims like we were liars. I would love to have had the resources that my daughter had,” she stated of her daughter’s situation that happened in 2017. “I believe they’ve come quite a ways.”
On speaking out
When asked why she stepped forward to speak out now, Lisa explained that it mainly had to do with her daughter’s role as a domestic violence advocate. “It would probably be because of how active my daughter is as an advocate. I can’t say I was ever afraid to talk about it. He was a soldier and so was I. I reported it, my boss knew…[it’s just that] Audrey being so involved kind of forced me out of the shadows.”
Lisa is aware that sharing her story will help others.
“[I hope] to make other women that are survivors understand that there is strength in telling your story. And that it is going to help others to come forward,” she said.
She acknowledged that being able to identify with others who have been through something similar will help them through what they endured. “I think that there’s a lot more focus now than there ever was before. We will have more opportunity to make some big changes in legislation to make sure that victims are safeguarded.”
And in that strength in coming forward to share their stories, Lisa hopes that other survivors will find some kind of closure. “So I think unless you’re burdened somewhat to a degree to share it, and you know it goes out there, it will be read by others trying to heal and it gives them hope. We are survivors.”
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.