Content Warning: Violence and abuse
I was taught from an early age that God would shield me from all harm. Growing up in an Orthodox Christian family, I went to church every Sunday. I tried to pray every night and live according to the Bible. For the majority of my life, I believed that everything — good or bad— was a part of God’s plan.
But as I got older and became more aware of the increased physical threat at home, I questioned my relationship with God. I thought He would protect me from all harm. But the only real protection I had was the bedroom door that stood between my father’s fist and my face.
Each night, I prayed for the abuse to stop, and each night, the abuse got worse.
I felt betrayed by what people had told me about the power of faith. If prayers were supposed to connect me to God, then why hadn’t He heard my cries to end my abuse?
So at 17, I stopped praying. I refused to go to church because I stopped believing that I would be saved from the abuse. I stopped worrying about the consequences of my decisions because I no longer thought a higher power would judge my actions.
Over time, I became afraid that my life would be meaningless without a belief in a higher power. I feared that the absence of a higher power would lead me astray.
I spent the next three years trying to grapple with the emptiness I felt after neglecting my faith. I had learned from my prior experience with therapy that verbalizing my trauma was painful, so I did not consider giving therapy another try.
But I knew I needed another way to communicate my pain and work to understand my emotions. After looking for fulfillment in the wrong places — sex and binge drinking — I turned to journaling. My history of toxic relationships had led me to question why I was experiencing repetitive patterns across my relationships.
During my sophomore year in college, I pulled out my journal one night and started to write about my current failing relationship. He got so drunk and started yelling at me, saying, “Do you know who I am? I’m the president of this frat. While you end up a housewife after your graduate, I’m going to Harvard.”
I felt relieved to freely express my thoughts out on the page. In my journal, I didn’t have to rationalize or accept what happened. I was free to simply write down my cluttered emotions and act as my own soundboard.
So I continued to write about him and everything that had happened that night. I had never realized why this guy’s drunken behavior left me feeling frustrated and helpless. But detailing the situation on paper forced me to relive that night and reflect on why I always reacted so intensely to his drunkenness. Once I wrote down my feelings, I could no longer pass them off as an overreaction — I had to accept the reality that seeing him drunk was a trigger for my dad’s abuse.
Journaling helped me realize the negative association I created between seeing people drunk and my alcoholic father abusing me. The more alcohol my father drank, the more violent his abuse toward me was. So whenever I saw my ex intoxicated from alcohol, it brought me back to my father’s abuse.
Being detailed in my entries prompted me to be more aware of my surroundings so that I could better understand past relationships. I learned about my triggers by unpacking my feelings surrounding events that had previously upset me.
The more I processed my feelings through writing, I saw how vulnerable I was to repeating these patterns of abuse. Writing became a therapeutic process because it allowed me to realize I had agency over my life; I had the power to leave abusive relationships.
I thought about how I was taught that our outcomes were predetermined by a higher power. I realized that God did not have a map of my life. Rather, God’s plan was to allow me to regain agency in my life. The neglect and revival of my faith ultimately led to redefining what it means to be a survivor of domestic violence. That is God’s plan.
Elizabeth Arutyunyan writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected].