J’Anmetra L. Waddell is a survivor of domestic violence at the hands of husband, who was also her Pastor. Now an advocate for victims and survivors, she knows what it is like to depend on a shelter for your clothes and daily supplies, all while raising children alone and living in fear of your life. What would you do when trapped between your faith and your fear?
“My abuser only allowed me to eat once a day, use the bathroom once a day, work when he told me too, pay all the bills, and train his new wife while he plotted on ways to kill me only after he prostituted me out to make him money.”
How did it start? The first time my abuser put his hands on me I remember thinking this isn’t real maybe I am dreaming this. It just all seemed NOT REAL. I was late coming to his house from work for lunch and he wanted to know why when I told him why he didn’t believe me. I put his hands around my neck and pushed me into his office chair and was in my face telling me that I better not lie. When he let me go the first thing he said was – oh sweetie I am so sorry I didn’t mean it and he tried to hug me but I ran out of the house and went back to work and called my best friend but after explaining it to her. I had no idea what to do next I loved him I wanted to get married and he did say sorry and this was the first time.
Did you question God during this time? Did you have anyone in the church that you could talk to or who tried to help? Yes, I absolutely questioned God every second of the day. My main question was always, “How could God let someone who teaches His word beat me and try to kill me?” I was angry at God because it seemed like He was answering my ex-husbands prayers and not mine. I didn’t understand how this could be happening to me if I was married to a man of God! There was no one I can talk to I was considered the young woman who married the older man (he was 25 yrs. older than me) most of the church members were older than me so they only “tolerated” me; they loved my ex-husband and some to this day still do not believe me. The older women of the church were convinced he was the perfect husband and I was the one that need to focus on being a better supportive wife.
What issues within yourself lead to you believing and going along with – all the things he exposed you and your children to when you knew they were wrong? I believed him when he said that God had told him things and that –God had told him I was a horrible person, horrible mother so he was just confirming what God had told him. He even used scripture to prove his point. I always thought myself esteem was great but looking back I realized it was not. He pinpointed my one weakness and exaggerated it so that it became the main focus. I thought myself esteem was great until I meet him. He played on my poor relationship with my mother and made sure that I understood that she did not love me no like he could. Within 2 months I was completed dependent on him from going to work; eating lunch and home –I gave up my love of reading, my relationship with my daughter. I realize now that my mind was not strong enough to defend myself against his.
Your lowest point during abuse My lowest point of abuse was after my ex-husband rapped me in front of our 3-month old daughter. I wanted to die –and after he was finished I contemplated ways that I could jump out the window before he could catch me. I thought about if concrete really did hurt and how bad would it really be for me to leave this earth I was already in hell so it couldn’t be any worse than what I was living right now. I was convinced I was crazy –and that I was losing my mind and the only right thing for me to do was to kill myself and give my girls a better start without me. As he called the counselor and tried to have me committed to a mental hospital it just reassured me that perhaps he was right I was mentally incapable of taking care of myself. I wanted to die I didn’t want someone like me to raise my girls and for them to learn horrible habits from me.
What was your relationship like with his family then compared to after you left and currently? His parents were deceased. He has one brother however; they didn’t have a relationship. He was close to a family of the friend and his wife-they had grown up together – and they treated me like family by embracing me and my oldest daughter. After I left my ex-husband it took me a long time to contact them and tell them why I had left. They wife did not believe me and didn’t speak to me for a while; her husband did and I just decided to keep the communication down to zero.
What events led to you finally leaving? I finally told my friends what happened and one morning one friend called while my ex-husband was asleep and refused to take no for an answer when it came to leaving. I remember thinking –if she calls 911 like she said she is going to then he is going to kill me before they get here if I leave he is going to kill me when he finds me since either way I am going to die I might as well die trying to escape. I cried at the front door for 30 minutes before I decided to open the door and run for my life with a preemie in one hand and a seven-year-old in another.
Did something happen specifically to make you share with your friend? The first time I left Jamal was the first time that I told someone what happened. We had just relocated to another city, I had a preemie, a new house, no car, and nothing else had changed. When I left that night we had been arguing about how bad a mother I was, and he was upset because I wasn’t answering his questions fast enough. We were in den and he finally let me go to the bathroom around the corner. While I was in there I was just sitting there thinking why am I here it’s not worth it I am going to go crazy. Something in me just said run because I was such a ball of nerves I felt like I was losing my mind. I went through the bathroom living room and out the front door to the renter car and found the closest hospital and told them I felt like I was losing my mind they checked me in gave me a psych consult I told them my husband was beating me and they told me not to worry they let me sleep for a couple of hours that was the best sleep ever. Eventually he found me and he had the girls with him; the law says I can have my child because he is not my oldest daughter but the youngest because she was with him they could not make him give me the baby so the police escorted me and my oldest daughter to the shelter for the night. That is when I realized that I had to call someone to pick me up so I called a former church member we had been pregnant together and she drove over an hour to come pick me up and that is when I first shared my story. However, even with sharing my story the first time I was still protecting him and I went back to him the next day.
How do you advocate for survivors and also what specific first steps advice would you give to the woman in pre-survival who are still in the midst of their abuse and may not even have the freedom to attend an event or read a book for encouragement? How were you able to apply these steps in your situation? When I first began advocating for survivors I would go to the local court room and volunteer my time in the domestic violence court; I would sit inside the room –where they had to fill out the forms for restraining orders and make sure they had everything in order so that they would not have to prolong the process. I decided to take it further and I became a Wake County Commission for Women and was able to represent the women in my zone when it came to local and state laws, ensuring that we were represented in the best way and that the state of NC heard our voice.
The first step I would tell a non-survivor is to become a survivor. You have to choose live. You have to choose your life. No one else will. My counselor told me the day after I left she said Ms. Waddell –do you want to live or die. When you have the answer to that question call me back and she hung up on me. That changed my life so for a non-survivor you have to decide if YOU want to live or die. This is what I would tell a non-survivor – inside of you is a resolve to survive. It is so strong it can over power you and make the impossible possible. I would stand in the shower and chant to myself I know that I am not crazy., I know I’m not crazy and I would say it for as long as I was allowed in the shower. I usually just stood under the water and repeated it. Once I decided I wanted to live my first thing was to be gentle with myself. If all I could accomplish for the day was to get out of bed and not cry, then that was great. Every day I added small things to my daily routine. Your mental health at this point is so fragile you have no other option but to be gentle with your soul. I had no one to tell me what steps to take I had to figure that out so I encourage women to take it second by second that is what will save your life once you have left your abuser. Second is to be gentle with yourself –mental and emotional abuse is real and last longer than physical for years I heard my abusers talking in my head whenever I wanted to do something different. My exercise is to write down one good thing you did today one positive thing that you changed about yourself no matter how small at the end –you will have a book of positive affirmations and accomplishments –the purpose for this exercise is that every day you find yourself replacing the negative talk in your mind with something positive and eventually the negative thinking is completely replaced with YOUR positive reinforcements.
Is your ex in jail now? Still Pastoring? Did he attempt to find you? My ex is not in jail now. I am not sure if he is pastoring, the last I knew he lost the church he was pastoring and has not returned that I know of that denomination. Yes, he has attempted on several occasions to find me once he succeeded. He left a poster on my front door telling the girls happy birthday. The courts unfortunately did nothing; he has attempted several times via email to contact me including telling me that it was his turn with our daughter because I had –had her long enough and that I could just drop her off and he would pick her up and take her /
How did the church treat you or the situation once the truth was out? How did you in your opinion find the strength to break free from what was holding you back? The church was hurtful all the way around. When they found out that we were dating and that we got married; the literally stopped attending church; women I had knew my entire life stopped speaking to me. Then we moved over 330 miles away. At a new church I was looked upon as the young wife who didn’t know anything. I mean he was 25 years older than me and so they thought he was my sugar daddy. When I left, they didn’t believe me they refused to believe me. He had set the foundation for it before I left he would have the elderly women of the church to pray for me because he had told them I was mentally and emotionally ill and he was trying to love me through my issues. So when I told them why I left they just assumed that he was correct. It took years before they some would believe me mostly it was the women that did not believe.
I found the freedom to break free the day after he raped me in front of our 3-month old daughter as I was laying there afterwards thinking about why me Lord and then I looked out the window and wondered would I survive if I jumped out the window and landed on the concrete below to go get help because if I didn’t I wasn’t going to live through the night. Then the thought hit me what would he tell my daughters about me? What would he say really happened to me? Is that what I wanted to leave them? Did I want to leave them with him? The morning I left I stood in front of the door and cried for 30 mins before I opened it and ran what made me run was either I am going to die trying to be free with my children or I am going to die at the hands of this man –and no one will ever know why.
Once you were out and everything was out in the open, did friends/family etc. ever mention that they could realize they were seeing the signs of abuse when they thought back? When I returned to friends that I had worked with before they told me that I looked like death but they had no idea how to tell me. They knew something was wrong but they didn’t want to get involved. My friends never addressed my abuse; it has only been the people who knew me while I was with Jamal that told me they thought something was wrong. My closest friends never said a word. My family, remember I was only allowed to see them once in the 2 yrs. were married so when I left –they never mentioned it. They talked in general terms he was crazy, I was going to kill him, I am glad you left. No one asked me –what happened and when I wanted to talk about it they would stop me and say they didn’t want to hear it. it wasn’t until this year that my parents heard my story of what really happened.
Do your children have a relationship with him? My children do not have a relationship with them. I had a daughter when we married however, he was convinced that she was evil; so she stayed locked in her room for the 2 yrs. of our marriage she was allowed out for meals and if he was in a good mood she could come out. My youngest –who was born 2 months early – has never seen him. She was three months old when we left.
“It is my passion to share my story to help that woman or girl who is on the verge but doesn’t know what to do scared of taking the next step. When I understood that if I did not live up to or carry out my purpose in life people would die then I became serious about sharing my story.”
Where you are in life now? In 2015 I finally decided to share my story and it was all because someone told me that had you not shared your story –I would have died. I didn’t think it was that serious but then God showed me that if you don’t share your story people will die and that I needed to share with them II Corinthians 1:37 which basically says I comforted you in all of your tribulation, so that you may be able to comfort them who are in trouble. It is our tribulation that we understand how Jesus is a comforter to us so that we can relate and share how He can be a comforter for other people in need.
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