Not Another Sarah chronicles my abusive relationship from its first wonderful moments to the terrible day when I ran for my life to the final day of the court process. I have also written what I wish my family, friends, and I had known when I first met my abusive ex-husband. I discuss emotional, physical, and sexual abuse from a Christian perspective and how to identify abusive relationships through personal accounts, simplified definitions, clear examples, and practical advice. Where necessary, a few names and locations have been changed, but overall, everything in this book really happened.

I hope that through reading Not Another Sarah the reader will gain a more complete knowledge of abuse and understand who is vulnerable to abuse, how to escape or help others escape, and how to heal. I hope readers will make better choices than the ones I made; only then will I succeed in my goal for this book: to prevent another case of abuse and to make sure there is not another "Sarah" in this world.

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New Book Excerpt #1

from "Court" Chapter

That night I wrote down what I wanted to say when I addressed William in court:

One of the greatest punishments you will have is not the jail time or the restitution, but the knowledge that somewhere in the world is a woman you tried to destroy but who was strong enough to stand up to your abuse and stand up to your threats and hold you responsible for what you have done.

Never again will you have any power or control or dominance over me.

You always said that I was never on your level. You were right in that respect.I am so far above you that I’d be surprised if you could even see me from way down where you are.

Whatever happened and no matter what you did, I have chosen to make it a positive experience, and for the rest of my life, I will speak out for the many silent victims of abuse who have not yet found the strength to stand.

From this very day until the day I die and beyond, I will do everything I can to help prevent others from experiencing the total humiliation, physical pain, and suffering that I endured because of you.

I still have bite marks—your bite marks—on my body. Eight scars total. I still remember bleeding because of you and losing consciousness because of you.

Every kindness, every show of love, every poem, every card I wrote was wasted on you. You never deserved me, and you now have received what you deserve.

I don’t hate you. I don’t despise you anymore. I pity you, and I pity the day that you truly realize all that you could have had in me and in all of your victims.

One day you will realize that the people who honestly loved and cared for you were the ones you abused and tried to kill. And that, William, will be the day that your real suffering begins.

Haunted by memories you cannot change; tormented by words you cannot replace; isolated by your own cruel, selfish acts. A wretch, consigned in misery, doomed to fail and not able to love. I pity you, William.

After pouring out my anger on paper, I crawled into my bed and cried myself to sleep.

From that day, my life began to spiral downward. I became consumed with the anger that I felt toward William; it ate me up inside. All I could think about was how badly I wanted to see him punished. I wanted a black eye for a black eye, a bruise for a bruise, a bite for a bite. Over and over again I imagined him suffering as I had, bleeding everywhere like I had, crying out in agony just like I had, experiencing the humiliation and horror over and over.

In my anger, I lashed out at those closest to me. I avoided my family and friends, and eventually I quit going to church. Soon after that I began desperately trying to find happiness in new ways. I partied and drank with a new group of friends in a shallow attempt to forget my pain. But the parties always ended, the dizzying effects of the alcohol wore off, and my current boyfriend went home, and I was left alone, hurt, and bitterly hating myself and William. I refused to talk to my family and friends about what I was doing every weekend; I didn’t even mention it to my counselor Sharlene. No one knew the things I was doing. All anyone could see was the carefully constructed public face I put on each day.

By September 1996, I had hit bottom. My life was terrible, my heart ached continually, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not outrun the horrors of my past. There was nothing left to do but to turn back to the waiting, outstretched arms of a loving God. And so I began my hard climb out of the pit I had dug for myself. I prayed and prayed for the strength to repent and to change, and I immersed myself in the scriptures. I attended church every week and spent as much time as I could with my family and old friends.

One night, I searched the scriptures for verses about forgiveness. I had been desperately seeking the Lord’s forgiveness for the sinful summer I had led and was searching for ways to be worthy of his mercy. But the first scripture I found was not about the Lord’s forgiveness; it was about forgiving those who have trespassed against you. The spirit of God whispered in my heart “William” as I read it.

I instantly bristled. “I cannot! I will not!” I shouted in my head. “NO! NO! NO! I refuse to forgive him. He deserves nothing from me. NOTHING!” After my temper calmed, God’s spirit whispered his name again, and I groaned. “Please, God,” I begged. “Please don’t ask me to do that. I can’t.” In response, I felt the same request repeated: forgive William. I groaned again, shutting my scriptures in front of me. In my heart I knew that to be free from my own burden of guilt, I would one day have to forgive William of his.

“One day,” I muttered to myself bitterly. “Someday far, far in the future. Someday when life has blessed me with extreme wisdom and mercy.”

“No. Now,” came another spiritual prompting into my mind.

But I was not ready; I did not want to be ready. And so I set my scriptures aside and went to bed, completely tuning out further promptings from the Lord.

Over the next few weeks I began to see how corrosive and lethal my anger was; it seemed to poison everything about me: my emotions, my love for others, and my ability to feel joy. I began to realize that forgiving William would do nothing for him, but it would do a lot for me. But as hard as I tried, I could not let go of my anger. It had become too intense and too deeply embedded within my heart. For many, many nights I prayed for the release, for the power to forgive, and slowly the anger left me. Occasionally I had to force myself not to relive the anger when I remembered a specific instance of abuse, and it took an extraordinary effort not to criticize William or feel pity for myself, both habits of my own design. I continued to pray, but it wasn’t until months later when I sat down to rewrite what I wanted to say to William in court that my answer came. As I finished the last paragraph, I felt as though the lid of my heart had been pried open and that God was pouring in the most marvelous warmth I had ever felt. My statement, no longer filled with the anger and bitterness, seemed to be filled with hope and light. That light continued to grow brighter and brighter until the day that I finally told William in person that I forgave him. By then my anger was completely gone, and, by the grace of God and because I still work hard at it, the anger has never again taken over my life.

Book Excerpt #2

Happy Anniversary, Dear

The candlelight flickered gently as William reached across the restaurant table to hand me a small velvet box.

"Happy Anniversary, Dear," he said.

"Anniversary?" I queried.

He rolled his eyes. "It's our one month anniversary today. That's why I brought you here, for a special dinner to celebrate our very first month of marriage."

I smiled as I held the box out in front of me. I glanced over at William, his features lit by the dim lights overhead and the candle between us. His face was hard with only a slight smile on his lips. I knew that the clock was now ticking for me; I had already made one mistake and chances were that William would not allow many more. I forced myself to smile brightly as I stared at the box. I had to work extra hard to prove to him that I was as fine on the inside as I appeared to be on the outside. If not, our evening would end like all the others in the past two weeks, filled with arguing, fighting, and hitting.

"Can I open it now?" I asked, hoping that I suddenly had a twinkle in my eyes.

He nodded once.

I slowly opened the box, wondering if I should get teary-eyed when I saw what was inside. The box clicked open to reveal a small pair of pearl earrings. I looked up with a wide smile of surprise.

He arched an eyebrow. "They are real."

"May I put them in?"

Again, a nod, and I quickly obeyed.

"They look nice," he said, his voice a little softer. "I like it when you wear your hair up like that, and when you wear lots of makeup."

My stomach knotted. Underneath the layers of heavy makeup I wore were a black eye and several yellowing bruises. I turned my face away, as if embarrassed by his praise. I reached up and touched an earring. How could something so beautiful look nice on me when I felt so ugly?

"I want today to be a starting-over point for us, like we are newly married again," he paused a moment. "What I am saying is that I am willing to forgive you for all the mistakes you have made this past month. If you promise to try harder, I am willing to forget all the times that you have hurt me. We'll let the past remain in the past."

I looked down at my hands, my mind racing. Starting over? No more reminders of my incompetence, my mindlessness, my failures as a cook and wife? It sounded wonderful, but I couldn't help but wonder what he was really thinking. I looked up at him and nodded slowly.

"We need a fresh start. To be - as you said so well- newly married," I answered.

"Because of your family we started off our marriage on the wrong foot. It's time to take charge and do this right." He was about to say something else, but was interrupted by the waitress who came to take our order. I waited patiently while William gave her instructions for both of us.

'The right foot?' I thought, wanting to laugh at the irony. Just a week before I had been at the BYU Health Center having stitches removed from my right foot. In a fit of anger, William had hurled his drinking glass at my bare feet resulting in a late night trip to the emergency room, a carefully constructed lie, and nine stitches- the first stitches in my life. Gratefully his anger had dissipated as soon as he saw the blood flowing down my ankle and foot, and the argument ended.

I stole a glance at William who was laughing with the pretty waitress. 'Newly married?' I thought. 'No more yelling; no more slapping or hitting; no more black eyes. Back when I did things right? Or did I? Had I ever done anything right for William?' My mind searched through the memories of the past month. 'What have I done right?' It was easier to think of what I had done wrong. I unpacked the bedroom before unpacking the kitchen while William watched TV. I made him dinners that were too high in fat and calories. I put the magazines on the coffee table wrong after dusting, forcing William to repeatedly throw them on the floor until I got it right. 'I haven't done anything right,' I admitted bitterly to myself. I glanced up at William who was staring at me.

"Tell me what you are thinking," he demanded. My heart sank; this was one of his favorite games- the one he used to show how stupid I was by making fun of the things I thought about.

I took a deep breath, hoping that what I said wouldn't ensure that I got beaten at home. "I was just thinking about this past month and thinking that I hadn't done anything right."

He remained quiet for a moment, thinking over what I said, while I waited breathlessly for his reaction. Finally he nodded a few moments. "You are right, but like I said before, I am willing to forgive you and give you another chance- if you are willing to promise to try harder. You owe me a lot after what you have put me through. I just hope that this time you get it right."

"Thank you, William," I said, breathing a big sigh of relief. "What have I ever done to deserve you?" I added sweetly with a nice smile. The question echoed in the back of mind as William began flirting with the waitress who had come to refill our water glasses. What had I done to deserve this?

© 2003, Sarah Southerland