Trials to Triumph with Melinda Kunst: Surviving Domestic Abuse
Today I am honored to share the story of Melinda Kunst: Domestic Abuse Advocate. As a survivor of childhood and adult abuse, “she shares her journey of escaping abuse to inspire hope in others to find courage to do the same.” She is the author of two books on the topic: Call Me Master: A Memoir of Surviving Abuse, and Rising from the Ashes: Awakening the Beauty of Life Without Abuse. She is also an Empowerment Speaker, and Life Coach. She is truly a beautiful and courageous woman. Check out our conversation below.
Is this abuse?
Reaiah: What was it like for you to realize that you were in this abusive relationship, and how long into the relationship did the abuse start?
I knew that there was always throughout my life. Even my relationship with my ex while we were dating, it was such a roller coaster. And so I knew something was off and I couldn’t put my finger on it because I grew up in that toxic environment. So it was normal [to me].
It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I realized I was being abused. It had taken me that long. I knew there was something wrong, I questioned it. I questioned God. Like this doesn’t seem right. This is wrong. Why is this happening? It wasn’t until I left in 2007 for the first time and I stayed at a woman’s shelter. I told my story, and the lady had told me “well, you’re being abused”. I rationalized it and made excuses for him. And she was like, “no, you’re being abused.” I was 36 when I realized.
Reaiah: Can you talk about what that process was like for you to leave this relationship?
That first time I left, I knew I wanted to leave and I don’t know how I found out about this woman’s shelter called St. Jude house. I think I just looked it up and I called them because I wasn’t sure about what it was. I was kind of scared to even call them, but I’m so happy I did. One week I called them, and by the grace of God, they ended up having room for me the next week. It just happened so fast.
I was an antique dealer and ran the shop with his family. So we had planned this get-together with the vendors. And he knew about it months ahead of time, because I had scheduled out our planning for the year, different holidays and stuff. I was at this event, and he said, “I want you home now.” It takes about 40 minutes from that place to my then home to get home. I said, “I can’t come home. You know, we’re here. I told you about it.” I had all the kids with me. And he’s like, “if you don’t come home within the next 15 minutes, I’m going to bash your face in.” There was no way I would get home in that amount of time. Even if I flew there, no way.
He was serious and I know he lived up to his threats. So when he told me that I just felt floored. I was scared. I was panicking. My mother-in-law was there at the time. She saw me and asked “what’s going on?” And I told her and I just lost it.
I knew I couldn’t go home.
But I actually went back to him after [leaving the first time] and I actually went back for a while. We got into another situation, but this was even more crazy adding more drama. So I left again.
But again, both times his mom asked me to come back, bring the kids back. He’s changed. Things are going to be okay. And so I believed her. And then finally in 2008, I said I can’t do this anymore.
Reaiah: Wow. So even though you talked about what was going on, his mom seemed to be defending him. How was that like for you? Were there other people who knew your story and were supporting you?
Well, my own family were not happy with him, but my mom and my dad seemed to be like that with any suitor that came to our door. So, it seemed like, okay, protective parents, that sort of thing.
From the outside, looking in, we looked like the ideal couple with kids because no one really knew.
They knew he was a little bossy, a little bit of a bully, but looking in only a handful of people saw his true side. I mean, I was a Sunday school teacher, a girl scout leader, a Cub scout leader. I was involved in other things in the community PTO. So I was really out there, but no one really knew. But I also kept myself busy because I didn’t want to be home. That was like a refuge and safety for [my kids and I] to be gone.
Reaiah: You mentioned teaching Sunday school. So you were part of a church? How did this experience affect your faith or vice versa? Or how did your faith help you during this trial?
I felt like I had a lot of quiet moments. I was confused, first of all, because at one point in time, I had been looking for myself and finally found a church I was really happy with. But my then husband thought I was being brainwashed. So I was not allowed to go to church, I think it was six months or a year I wasn’t allowed to.
I kept talking to God throughout this whole time.
I prayed for me to help heal me, let me be this ideal wife. And I prayed for him, you know, Lord change his spirit. What do we have to do together? I never lost my faith, but I questioned my faith. “Okay. Lord, if you’re really up there, you know, do something about this.” And there were times where I was on my knees. I was on my face. I was flat on the floor, just crying and praying. “Okay. Take me away from here. I don’t want to do this anymore. Or Lord, I don’t want to go to hell if I take my life or if I take his.” It was getting to that point where it was starting to get really heated where I didn’t know if I was going to survive either from his hand or my own.
Reaiah: As you prayed, in what ways did you see God show up through this time?
He showed up in other people. He showed up in different things I would see maybe on TV or I would hear in the radio. I started to listen to more of a Christian radio station and I would hear the songs and I would know, “okay He’s with me.” Or I would see something while I was out just a word, like hope or blessing or strength or hold on. It’s like I knew He was there.
I knew [God] never gave up on me. He was always with me.
I would see flowers or I would see my kids in a different light that just seemed very angelic or heavenly. Or I would hear a quiet voice “just to be patient. Be still, I’m still with you daughter.” And It was not even so much audible, but I just had that warm feeling like “I’m still here with you”.
There was one specific time I remember where [my ex] was kicking the crud out of me and I was on the floor. I was kind of curled up and I could see myself getting punched and kicked and I could see myself almost outside of my body. It was the weirdest thing. But in my hand, I could feel, and I could almost make out like a white presence.
Somebody was holding my hand and I know that was the Lord.
He was standing with me. I know he was with me. He was comforting me and letting me know it’s going to be okay, you’re going to get through this. It was like a protection. And I know he was with me. I know, even to this day he was with me. He was my guiding force there. And not to give up to keep going, even though I wanted to.
What a powerful message to be able to say that you saw God with you even through these hard times. That gives people hope for sure.
Leaving one last time
Reaiah: Can we talk a little bit about what it was like for you to leave the very last time? What the process was like? What was that transition like to be on your own, and to pretty much start over?
It was scary because it was scarier for me to leave that relationship than it was to stay because if I stayed, I knew what to expect. I mean, I knew my days were numbered. It was getting to that point, but I knew what to expect. Starting over was scary with no job. But thankfully my sister was taking us in. I had no job, no money in my pocket. I squirreled away $25 to start up a checking account by getting change or whatever else I could find. Because he kept track of what my spending was. So I had to go through the pockets in the washing machine and the dryer just to save up.
And so it was very terrifying for me. Like, what am I doing? I would question myself, okay, Lord, this is what you want for me, but I don’t understand, “Where am I going to get a job? How am I going to work?”
It was very scary. The whole process was. But that last time I did plan it. And thankfully I still had information of safety planning from the shelter I was in.
I would send my sister information: paperwork, copies of bills, copies of our birth certificates, important papers. And I would mail them to her when I had a chance. So she had copies of all that important information.
I was squirreling away different things for the kids and myself. My dad would come to our shop there, he would pick up the load and he’d go and take it to my sister’s house. I made sure to plan; I started to tell people at the kids’ school, and I told the vendors where I was working at the antique shop. Of course, some were unhappy, but I couldn’t think about them right now.
I had to think about me and the kids getting into safety.
And I told his boss a few days before and he’s like, “You know, you’re just going to go back. Why didn’t you tell me this is going on?” I told him, “I couldn’t tell you. Anytime that you called he was next to me. Of course I had to say that everything’s good.” So his boss didn’t understand that. I told his mom the night before and she didn’t understand. She was like, “Why? I don’t get it. You always say it’s good.” They just didn’t understand. There was never a safe place or way for me to tell them that things are still not right, we weren’t safe.
Reaiah: So how long did it take, from the time you left to when you finally started feeling like you were safe or you were starting to get on your feet, like really adjust?
Honestly, it was probably a good year after leaving. And even then it was still very volatile. We had a situation with death threats, a murder for hire where he is concocting a kidnapping scheme, where he was going to kidnap me. Then issues with my then son trying to kill me as well.
So in 2017 is probably the time where I felt truly safe. It took a long time. I still make sure that we’re safe. Maybe I’ll always still look over my shoulder. I need to just to keep myself safe. My kids they’re older now so I’ve taught them self defense. They know how to handle themselves, teaching them boundaries and so on so they don’t end up in this kind of relationship or if they do, perhaps they can talk to their partner to get help.
Reaiah: Wow. You said 2017 was when you started to feel safe. What happened around that time or was it just the whole process?
It was just the whole process. I was diagnosed with Stockholm syndrome and PTSD, anxiety, depression. And so that was probably a real pivotal point where I noticed like, even maybe a year before that I wasn’t having bad dreams. I wasn’t wetting the bed, I wasn’t as panicky when I heard a phone chirp, like he used to have, or would see his truck or car looked like his. I wasn’t jumping all the time. So it took me a while.
I try not to tell anybody that it’s going to be roses, rainbows, and unicorns when you leave, because it’s not, it’s hard. Not only that it’s hard on the kids. I was having a hard time dealing with it, but they were even worse because they had these hormones going on. Dad’s telling them that it’s their fault, especially my middle daughter. He was telling her that it’s all her fault that we split up. And it was just a really rotten time.
Effects on Mental Health
Reaiah: You mentioned depression, PTSD. Can you talk a little bit about what kinds of effects emotionally or mentally, does that have on you either during the abuse and even the transition out of it?
You know, I didn’t know I had those. My doctor probably about five or six years prior had said that he thought I was depressed and I thought, “Oh, I’m not depressed.” He knew a little bit about my situation because he would see bruises, he would see marks. He put me on medication at that time for my headaches, but later said “I gave it to you for depression, and hopefully make it better.” But it didn’t make me better actually. Just a side note, it made me more suicidal than I already was, so I took myself off that. (*Please talk to a professional before making changes to your medication.)
It was in 2005 or 2006, I had my very first panic attack. I didn’t know what it was. I thought I was having a heart attack. And I had no idea. My ex during that time was upset at me because he said he was missing his TV show. It was just a horrible time.
It really didn’t hit me with depression, and even the PTSD until [my first counselor] told me. And it was almost like a weight just lifted off my shoulders once I started saying the words. And I know I’m going to be healed. I know the Lord’s healing me.
Reaiah: What were the things that did provide healing for you?
Reading my Bible. I would steal away time to read my Bible because all of my time that I had, when my ex was home, was his. The many moments, like when he was at work, I would steal away that time to read my Bible and to journal. I actually had two journals. Where I would journal everything or I would blog everything, and then I’d either rip up the page with the truth in it. Or I would post my blog, my sister would actually print it out. And then like a half hour, 15 minutes later, when she told me that it was all clear, then I would erase it and put on the PG version that my ex would see. So just to get the word out there that, “Hey everything’s not okay.”
I needed that released. I needed to tell somebody and, just to get those words on paper and just pray with the Lord and ask for guidance and help.
Even until that moment, maybe it was three weeks before I left I was still questioning. Even though I had been preparing since November, that February I had a women’s retreat through church, I got permission to go. And the Lord sent this woman there.
I had waited, they were going to talk about divorce and marriage and even abortion. They’re going to hit some hot topics in these table talks. And I thought, I want to know about divorce because I had already talked to my pastor and a deacon in the church. And they said they would pray for me. “You know what they say about divorce?” So even though I told them what was going on, he was like, well, we’ll pray for you. I wasn’t liking that excuse, that answer.
So I told God like, “okay, I’m going to go to this retreat, Lord.” I was bargaining with him. “If I’m supposed to stay, then someone will be there to tell me, okay. “Yes, you have to stay.” Okay, Lord. But if there’s someone else there and the flip side, Lord, then I know what the sign is from you”.
A Sign From God
So sure enough, the last day we’re there and at this table waiting for this thing, and this woman comes next to me, I’m there early. She’s like, “do you know what, hon, I’m sorry to tell you everything’s been canceled. They just thought there weren’t a lot of signups for it.”
And I just lost it. I just started crying and she’s like,”what’s going on? what topic were you looking for? You know, maybe we can find somebody”. I said, well, divorce. And I just let everything open up flood gates. And she sat there and listened. She was quiet. Once I finally let her get a word in, she was like, I am a mental health nurse, RN. I’ve been doing this. (I think she said like) 20 plus years. I worked in the mental facility of the hospital ward.
What you’ve explained to me is not you. Your partner has some issues. I’m not going to diagnose him. But what you’re experiencing is abuse. And again, there was that word again. She said, God does not want this type of union for you. This is not what God created this union for. What he’s doing to you is not right. It’s not biblical. And that was just like a splash of water. That was my confirmation. Never saw the woman again. It’s like, okay, there’s my angel. It’s like, thank you, Lord for that divine appointment. And that was my confirmation. A couple of weeks later I was gone. Wow. That was my answer.
Reaiah: Wow. How did you feel at that moment? Knowing that you were going to leave and it’s okay with God, what feelings came up?
Oh yeah. I still got the chills thinking about it. I was excited and I was happy because I knew I was going to be free. And I was absolutely terrified because what if something goes wrong? All these things are going on in my mind. What if something happens? What if he kills me? I had all these thoughts. What if he kills the kids? Those were the big things that I can think of. Other smaller things like what if I can’t find a job? What if I run out of money? You know, those are the other worries.
And then I tried, I tried to envision a life. Okay, well, when I’m free, I can go and do this. I can go and do that. And that got me really fired up. I can go visit old friends again, reconnect with family. I could do that sort of thing. And that got me more excited too. So even though there were bad things I was thinking of, that I was nervous for, I try to build some excitement thinking I’m going to be free.
Recently you and I went through this New Hope Trauma Healing Training, where we heard about the story of Joseph. At the end of the story he’s confronting the people who hurt him and he says:
“Don’t be afraid. What you meant to harm me. God used for good, not just for me, but to save many others.” In what ways do you see that true for your own story?
You know, that was just like a light bulb moment for me. And it wasn’t even that story. It was down the road for some reason. Where it’s like, wow, because I didn’t see it at the time as the blessings. I was just thinking, okay, Lord, this is my story. It was magical for me because [God] had sent all these other people, since I started sharing my story, have been able to either learn about abuse, or to see that they’re not alone. And I bargained with God, I said, Lord, okay, I’ll share my story, as long as it helps, well, at least one person.
I didn’t realize how not only healing it was for others, but for me. it really was very healing for myself. Wow. I mean, I didn’t realize what an impact [my story] was for others. I was just thinking, Oh, “who’s going to want to hear this darkness? Who’s going to want to know? And I’m ashamed. I’m embarrassed.
But the Lord has really impressed upon my spirit to share everything, the good, the bad and the ugly. And especially the ugly things that I didn’t want to share with anybody. But yeah, He’s saying, no, you need to, there’s somebody out there that needs this message. And you know, I don’t know who it is, but it’s a word for somebody. So even though this is really nasty, even though all that stuff was meant for harm, there’s been some good that’s come out of it really has. Yes.
Yeah and I’ve seen it, when I hear you, even on social media, talking about these difficult topics, there’s such bravery and so much power and healing that comes through in your story. I can just see it opening doors for others to feel more comfortable talking about it, to get help, or just knowing that they’re not alone.
Thank you. That’s the Lord. Like I said, if it was just me, I would be like so many other people that don’t mention it just like, it’s a bad marriage. Okay. especially in the very beginning I was falling apart. I was still not in a good place. And God kept sending people, social media, especially if somebody would call or that I would bump into in the store.
It was just so like God, to send somebody that you don’t know, a stranger that you say hi to, and next thing you know, you hear their life story. And more than often, at least I would say like 60% of the time they are abused. They’ll even say, I don’t know why I’m telling you this, they’ll just start sharing with me. So that’s the Lord working. Then I could tell them, well, you know, I’m a survivor. And it’s been amazing just to see transformation. That’s healing.
Resources and Advice
Reaiah: That’s so amazing. And because you do connect with other survivors or even other victims, maybe they haven’t gone out yet. What kind of resource or advice could you offer to those who may find themselves in similar situations?
Tell somebody first off.
It could be a friend. It can be a neighbor, somebody that you trust, a professional, call a shelter, just talk to somebody. That is just the best thing you can do.
Then try and plan it if you can.
If you call a shelter you can find safety planning, resources, they’ll help walk you through your own safety plan. They’ll give you information on maybe other things that you might need, housing or financial information. There’s job searches that are available if you go to a shelter.
If you can’t plan it and you have to go right away, leave the stuff.
Don’t worry about the house, the cars… When you’re in this really sticky situation, those things can be replaced. Your children cannot. Your fur babies cannot.
Know it’s going to be hard.
It’s not going to be just rainbows and glitter. It will be tough. But there are people out there, there are support groups out there. There’s the internet. Facebook groups, other groups and other people that I’ve been able to connect with, that I didn’t have when I first left.
Also there is domesticshelters.org.
If you’re looking for a shelter. Or anybody can reach out to me. I’m happy to talk to anybody. Again, talk to a friend when you do leave, the first 72 hours are very volatile of leaving a relationship. Try not to be alone. Even after you leave on. Even after that, 72 hours is over staying in contact with friends and family, let them know. You need to be safe.
Just, you know what you, no one can tell you when to leave. You will know when it’s right. And you’ll know when the time is right to leave. And I had that from my parents saying, well, you need to go now. No, the time had to be right for me. Don’t doubt yourself, don’t rationalize the abuse, don’t give it an excuse. You’re not crazy and you’re not alone.
This is just scratching the surface of what you can do when leaving an abusive relationship. Melinda shares more on her social media pages. You can find videos on her IGTV channel here.
Thank you so much again Melinda for doing this interview. I know it’ll help a lot of people. Domestic Abuse is certainly a difficult conversation, but something that needs to be talked about. Like you said, by being open about it, I really do hope that we would break that stigma that if we haven’t experienced it ourselves, that we’re not casting shame on the people who have, because we don’t understand.
Thank you reader for listening to Melinda’s story. I pray that this helps us all be more aware of the issue of domestic violence, and what we can do to support those in this situation.
If you yourself have or are currently experiencing abuse, please know you are not alone. I pray you can be encouraged by Melinda’s story and find a way out, and find your healing and freedom.
You can connect with Melinda on Social media
About the Trials to Triumph Series
In my Trials to Triumph interview series – I aim to share stories of women and how they overcame some of their greatest life challenges to be where they are today. With the hopes of encouraging other women like you and me who might find ourselves in a similar situation – that we too can overcome our trials. You can read other Trials to Triumph stories of Marlo here, or Danielle’s story here.