Miki Paul (maiden name) still gets nervous when other people drive. The passenger’s seat was once proof of her obedience to her ex-husband’s rage. “If he were mad while driving, he would punch me from the side,” she described as the keynote speaker at a Break the Silence of Domestic Violence event in Tuscon, AZ. “Once, when I didn’t know the way, he sped up fast to scare me, telling me he was going to crash the car and kill us both.”
Miki is the product of an upper-middle class Jewish family – scholarly, well-read, and humorous – a contagious mixture of playful and serious that shines through in our correspondence. Yet, behind the cheerful veneer is a painful past that began with her descent into what appeared to be the perfect marriage.
After graduating from Indiana University, she met her husband-to-be. She could check off the boxes on top criteria set by her parents for the “dream” man – a doctor, Jewish, and financially secure. Miki felt very lucky to have found him. It would take only a few years for her to realize that he didn’t offer her the one requirement for a healthy relationship – respect.
Glimpses of his tendency towards rage showed themselves in their short courtship, but youthful naiveté and hope subdued Miki’s trepidations. They married shortly after she graduated. On their wedding night, when Miki should have been basking in the warm glow of “happily ever after”, champagne, and dancing, she was being screamed at by her new husband for a comment she’d made to a wedding guest. That abrasive tone never left his voice for their decade-long marriage.
From that night on, Miki’s lived a life full of insecurity and fear. He called her fat on a near daily basis. Constantly threatened to divorce her. Broke her ribs. Knocked out two front teeth. Caused permanent damage to her eye.
Gifts, apologies and temporary cease-fires when he’d speak to her lovingly would follow his violent explosions. Classic abuser. Of course, something else would set him off and the cycle would repeat itself. Still, Miki remained out of a sense of traditional obligation supported by her faith. It is the Jewish woman’s role to keep the family together, right? At least that’s what several men in her life had implied.
So Miki’s ex-husband continued to deny her outside friendships, police her clothing, and physically and verbally abuse her.
Throughout those dark years her inner turmoil and humiliation kept her silent. Would her friends believe that someone as upstanding as her husband could be capable of such brutality? Would they understand why she hadn’t left yet? On the other hand, she had her education to fall back on and two young daughters who were beginning to sense just what kind of father they had. Suddenly like a cold, grey morning that unexpectedly gives way to a sunny day, the fog began to dissipate. The shift happened inside of her. This dream life –financial comfort, social standing, religious respect as a pillar within their synagogue – was not enough. What she ached for were love, respect, and tenderness.
“Put salt on my meat for me!” he demanded that fateful afternoon. In the past, she would have wordlessly complied with the childish order to avoid a fist to the face or a degrading tongue-lashing.
“Do it yourself,” she told him.” Taken aback, he hit her one last time before she yelled out the words that would free her from his terror: “I am divorcing you!”
She got a secular divorce, but her ex refused to grant her a Jewish separation, otherwise known as a “get,” which is a single-paged document from the husband that confirms the dissolution of their marriage. Uncertainty over her future kept her a standstill. “I was scared to move forward with my life, but I knew I must.” Her parents wanted her back in Florida, but she knew it was time to dare to rely on herself. “Instead of being married to a doctor, I decided to become a doctor myself,” she says. “I wanted economic and professional independence. I also was determined to provide my daughters with an excellent education, since my ex-husband wrote into the divorce decree he would not help them pay for college.”
Miki Paul became the only single parent in her doctoral program in Counseling Psychology at Ball State University in 1988. “I would wake myself up a few hours before my daughters awoke and use that time to study,” she remembers. “I have fond memories of the three of us sitting around the kitchen table doing our homework!” The hard work paid off.
At the age of 40, she received her PhD. Dr. Paul is currently a licensed psychologist in Tucson, AZ. Her daughters, now adults, describe her as “independent, creative, motivated, and reliable.” And she’s re-married to a loving husband.
Like many survivors of domestic abuse, Miki has dedicated much of her life to helping other women find a way out. “Being a psychologist and former abused woman has empowered me to work against domestic violence and help women heal from abuse.” She’s received numerous awards for her work within the movement, most notably the Sunshine Peace Award for her 20+ years of helping to grow domestic abuse awareness.
“It took me years to build back my self-esteem and identity,” she admits. But her daring to make the lonely passage through those years of recovery allowed her to grow into a woman she can admire.