(This is a guest post by Julie McMahon. We agreed it would be beneficial to have her story in one place. Here it is.)
Hi. My name is Julie McMahon, and I am a survivor! I am a survivor of domestic abuse and infidelity, shaming, silencing, bullying, and gas lighting. I want to share my story. Many of you may have already heard it, but split into pieces across the internet. I am very grateful for the many people who provided safe spaces for me to share my experiences over the last year. But now I feel the need to give a short synopsis of my story in one place. This is my personal version of events.
In 2008, I felt my marriage disintegrating. But, before this, two weeks after my third child was born my husband was approached to do his doctorate program at Princeton. I said, “What about us?” He said, “When Princeton calls….you go.” He moved to Princeton and we saw him a few times that year. When he was gone I noticed how much happier I was. I knew then that I was in a toxic relationship with a man who did not care for me or about my feelings. I felt he wanted to hit it big as an author, speaker, theologian, and become a celebrity of Emergent. I certainly was not going to be holding him back. It felt like he and our pastor were very driven to create a name for themselves. I was not on board with the aggressive travel schedule. It wasn’t healthy for our family system. Our marriage begin experiencing strain. His traveling and meeting with lots of other people lead me to become suspicious that he was having an affair. When this became a likelihood, I freaked out! I was told I was insecure and paranoid. I asked other Emergent leaders to help rescue our marriage. When it became obvious that this was hopeless, I freaked out even more. I was angry none of them intervened when he was traveling 250 days of the year and blogging about his Delta Silver Elite Status and the special VIP lounge at the airport. I was hurt. I was scared. It seemed to me that a decision was made to protect my husband’s reputation and that I was now a liability. His celebrity status seemed more important to him than I was. Suddenly, the leaders who were my friends no longer supported me, but only my husband! They treated me like a mental patient for having strong emotions about an affair. I’ll admit, I was emotional! I was losing everything. The last thing I would ever want for my children was for them to be hurt or experience divorce. Not in many cases, but in my case I considered it a form of child abuse! I held very deep convictions about that. I told myself to never have kids if I wasn’t willing to work through shit! I found a therapist that did Imago therapy… a last ditch effort plan for weekly therapy and a retreat. We met with her a couple times and she said we needed immediate in-depth counseling or we wouldn’t make it. My husband decided to go on a 47-day book tour instead. We fought and, yes, he physically hurt me. It was horrible and I can’t bear to think about that time. All of a sudden, I was branded as bat-shit crazy, unstable, hysterical, and out of control. They even tried to admit me to a psychiatric institution! When that didn’t work, I was brushed off to the sidelines. Meanwhile, he continued on with his life and ministry surrounded by what used to be “our” friends.
My hard life as a single mom began. I’m happy the courts ruled in my favor to have total custody of the children. Did this have to do with my husband being clinically diagnosed with NPD and the accounts of domestic violence? I’m glad I was able to parent our children. I’m a good mom. He moved on to the other woman I was suspicious about. I believe they were together while we were still legally married anyway. She is now his real wife after being a “spiritual wife”. I say “real wife” because during the days leading up to our divorce, my husband developed a theology that I felt entitled him to have an affair with another woman. He called his girlfriend his “sacramental wife” while I was his “real wife”. Our pastor told me what my husband and I have is “nothing more than words on a piece of paper and he has a spiritual wife now.” He said, “You may be the legal wife but she is the spiritual wife.” They are now literally married and working together to continue to promote his ministry. I’ve broken my back as all single moms do raising our children and staving off all the perpetual litigious assaults from my ex, all the while bearing the label “bat-shit crazy” with absolutely no one listening to my side of the story. I was in the backside of the desert all alone for years. Ironically, his efforts to break me had an opposite effect. With every blow I became stronger. God kept sending angels over and over again to keep me going and help me stay afloat. I say with full confidence that God is on my side. The Holy Spirit continues to lead me and my life as a mom and as a person. I would be crushed without my faith.
I was my husband’s biggest fan and so proud of him until I realized the movement and theology he was creating had everything to do with ego and man and nothing do with God. I sensed a darkness in our home. When things started heading south in the marriage I asked, “If this is of God and not man and ego, then where is the fruit?” I felt our marriage was nothing but rotten fruit. But he was in denial. This was no longer about glorifying God. My parents confronted my husband and my mother said that she sensed an evil had take over our once godly home. A friend who really is a prophet had a dream about my husband being in danger and she came to our home to tell him that his theology and his path he is headed down was going to put his family in danger. He shut her down. No one was going to dampen his rising star. When I raised concerns about my suspicions of my husband’s affair, when I fought hard to get him back, when I was expressing my rage, my loss of control, and my fear for my and my children’s future, I lost my credibility with all those I thought mattered. It seemed like overnight I was not just a nobody, but a nuisance and a “crazy.” I had become an emotionally unstable woman who was threatening to destroy what these Christian leaders had so carefully built… with my help! I’d become expendable. Even though our pastor and others claim they did listen to me, at some point they gave up. They gave lip service to cover themselves while doing nothing. My ex-husband had and still has their full support. He has continued growing his ministry, his writing, his speaking, and his reputation, all with the protection and support of his friends who used to be mine too. I quit going to church. What kind of community does this to people? I was going to write “innocent people like me”, but I won’t because I’ll admit I wasn’t entirely innocent. I accept responsibility for how distraught I was and how I behaved during that time. But I won’t accept responsibility for being shamed, silenced, bullied and gaslighted. So, for more than seven years, I have been silent because no one would listen because no one would care.
That’s what I thought until one day in September, 2014, David Hayward, the nakedpastor, wrote a post that critiqued my husband’s take on Mark Driscoll. In my opinion, the post itself was harmless. But my husband didn’t want Hayward’s critique to rest, so he commented on Hayward’s post in a manner that provoked a deep frustration within me. He always reacted with great hostility at the slightest internet criticism. He used to make me go after Ken Silva because it couldn’t look like him doing it. That is really what NPDs are so skilled at… creating proxies so they look blameless. Ken was threatened with a lawsuit for daring to speak critically or question my husband’s theology.
So this past fall, on David Hayward’s blog, I opened my mouth one last time. Would anyone hear me? I was angry that my ex could get away with so much for so long and that I wasn’t being heard! It wasn’t just the divorce years ago, but he ongoing cruelty of non-stop litigations against me as well as a whole list of other things. You can understand my frustration, can’t you? So I thought, why not give it just one more shot? Why not try to tell my side of the story just one more time? Who knows? So I did! I fully expected, as has consistently happened in the past, that my comments would be removed under pressure, so I held nothing back. I blurted as much of my story as I could in such little time. But, to my surprise, the comments remained. Not only that, but other people joined in so that not only was I able to tell more of my side of the story, but other people got to tell theirs! Even those who maligned me! You should read that post and the over 1,000 comments. It’s a lesson in a silenced person finally finding a safe space to share their experience and how this encourages others to do the same, while at the same time arousing the silencing tactics of those with influence who don’t want a different version of events to undermine the official narrative. The pressure for me to take my comments down was equal to the pressure on nakedpastor to take down the post and comments, or at least edit them out. This was nothing new to me, as you now know. This was not only normal for my experience, but expected. I really did think the same thing would eventually happen and that people would bow to the pressure from those in power or influence and they would take down the posts or comments. But, to my surprise, more people started sharing my story and allowing me to share it! It was a liberating experience to be able to share my story freely like that. I know others experienced the same liberation as they listened to mine and told theirs. The Holy Spirit took over on that thread and had her say.
Others started to spread my version of events. I realized it was too late and there was no going back. My story was out there! I felt hopeful, not that my marriage would be restored or that I would win a court case or that I could get my friends and influence back, but simply that I would be heard and that the balance of justice would tip just enough to make people see that maybe I was indeed the victim of shaming, silencing, bullying and gas lighting by my ex and his peers. I actually began to hope that the leaders who had abandoned me would come to the light and realize that they didn’t treat me as they should have, that they would call my ex to account for his treatment of me, and that they would apologize for supporting him to my personal detriment all these years. I just wanted an apology and some balance.
How are things now? I have received a few apologies, but not from the key players. The balance still tips in favor of those with influence and power and against those who have been mistreated. You probably don’t know that my ex files countless suits against me on an average of three times a year in civil and family courts. My father passed away in 2011 and all of that inheritance money… over $500,000… is gone because of having to constantly respond to endless litigations. That makes me want to vomit! Who does that? A mentally ill person with an axe to grind, that’s who! It’s gotten to the point now where I have no money left, nor do my family and friends. More than that, I have lost the will to fight in court anymore. I’m beleaguered and exhausted, drained of all my resources inside and out. For years, on Easter I would send a heart-felt letter, an olive branch, asking for peace for our children. For them I begged for the litigation which caused the poverty and stress to stop. He. Couldn’t. Do. It. He has surrounded himself with enablers who do not question him. It’s one thing to know that this is the typical strategy of a narcissistic ex, but it’s another thing to be the recipient of this litigious behavior. High conflict harms children. Litigious lawyers like the one he has chosen do not care about harming children. It’s bad! I am told it will never stop. A narcissist needs a perceived win so desperately that they will stop at nothing. I’ve taken another dive into the spiritual deep end and am learning to let go, surrender, and embrace what is, rather than fight it. If I lose my little amount of money, so be it. If I lose my reputation, so be it. If I lose my house, so be it. If I lose the last thread of my reputation, so be it. I’ve even come to say to myself, If I lose my own children, so be it. I don’t want it, but I’ve come to learn that even the courts, the supposed centers of justice in my country, are impressed with the loudest, richest, and most persistent voices. Even though I am being bullied, I refuse to become one. My children know my love for them is unwavering and I would do anything for them. Our bond and attachment is secure. I want my children to know they were conceived in love. At least on my part, and to the best of my ability which was not perfect by any means. Even if I end up on the street, I want my kids to know that I did my very best to provide them with safe, happy, love-filled lives.
I’ve lost friends but I’ve made new ones. There are a lot of people who believe my story. It’s out there. I can’t take it back. Nor would I. My faith has been restored that more and more people are becoming aware of the silencing of survivors like me that goes on every day. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I don’t call myself a victim but a survivor. I don’t have false hopes in those with power and influence. Even though my faith has dramatically changed, I haven’t lost it. I was broken but now I’m whole. I am broke and getting more broke, but I’ll figure it out. The person I was at the beginning of this story… strong, alive, happy, smart, beautiful, funny, imaginative and resourceful… that’s still me. I’ve been through the fire that still blazes beneath me. But I know I’m going to make it.
I hope no other woman has to go through what I went through. But if she does, I’m going to listen to her, believe her, and be a friend and support to her. That’s the least she deserves.
Thank you for hearing me and, if you do, for believing me.
(Julie is a member of The Lasting Supper. We warmly invite you to join us.)