Rev. Dr. Unnia L. Pettus, PH.D. is a domestic violence and cancer survivor. (Courtesy Photo)

By Rev. Dr. Unnia L. Pettus
Special to the AFRO

My ex-husband, who was also my pastor, and I worked for the same employer. After that position ended due to my boss losing her election, a mutual friend set us up at a social function. I informed her that I wasn’t interested, but he was persistent, and I’ll be honest, I liked the attention. We dated for about six months before he proposed.

A year later we were married. Now let me say, we had regular problems that any normal couple would have. But he never, ever showed any sign of emotional verbal or physical abuse towards me. In fact, he was very loving.  I felt like we were two puzzle pieces that were destined to fit together.

I was so in love and so happy. He was a great boyfriend and fiancé. It was not until I married him that my Mr. Right became Mr. Something Very Wrong.

The first two years of our marriage included daily bouts of emotional and verbal abuse. He constantly called me horrible names and played mind games. By year three he started slapping, pushing and kicking me. He would do whatever he needed to do to hurt me or make me cry. After six years of dealing with his adultery and abuse I took a bottle of prescribed pain medication and half-a-bottle of sleeping pills to commit suicide.

I had to have my stomach pumped and was admitted to a hospital psychiatric ward under a 24/7 “suicide watch.” I was diagnosed as being severely, clinically depressed.  While in the hospital I begged God to forgive me, especially since I was a minister by then. Ironically, I never told anyone what was happening to me. I thought my prayers, my faith and my love could change him. And I did not believe in divorce.

That’s why my first book and ministry is called Nobody But God, because I felt so ashamed and confused. Why didn’t my preacher husband love me?  What happened to that wonderful man that I fell in love with?

I did it, “God’s way,” and it turned out to be “hell on earth.” I didn’t know what to do and who to trust. I wanted to tell my mother, but I didn’t want her to be disappointed in me as her only child.

Eventually, I got fed up with being miserable. I reached the realization that God’s plan for my life didn’t have to include dealing with abuse and that I didn’t have to settle.  I would rather be by myself and be happy, than have a man and be miserable. After recovery from my suicide attempt, God blessed me with the ability to file for divorce.  I then moved on with my life and thought my past would be just that.

Therapists say that for healing to begin, whether one has an addiction or is in a dysfunctional relationship, they have to hit rock bottom.  For the alcoholic, rock bottom may be the day they kill someone while driving drunk or slap their kid in a drunken rage. For me, rock bottom came the day I attempted to take my own life.

When I did that, I remember seeing a bright light and hearing the voice of an angel in the form of my mother. The angel spoke gently saying, “It’s not worth killing yourself over a man. He’s not worth it baby.” I opened my eyes thinking my mother was in the room with me, but she wasn’t.  

Though I never thought I would leave the person who I thought would be “the love of my life,” I realized the only thing I couldn’t live without was my God. I had to let go of the soap opera drama that my life had become, because when you hit rock bottom there is only one way to go—and that’s UP. God helped me see that I truly didn’t want to die. I wanted to punish my abuser, even using my body as a means of punishment.

I was desperate for help and healing, and was not equipped with the tools to fix things on my own.  History has shown us that desperate people take drastic means. Like an addict sick to his stomach desiring a fix, I needed to get out no matter what. I just couldn’t exist under the current situation.  I received the therapy and counseling I needed to claim my life back.

By spiritual definition, what I experienced was the most intense form of spiritual warfare, because the enemy had taken control of my mind, and that led me into a state of clinical depression.

Resiliency is the ability to cope with stress, adversity, and bounce back to a previous state of normal functioning or using the exposure to adversity to produce a “steeling effect” and function better than expected. This “stealing effect” is essential in the day-to-day life and survival of a Domestic Violence victim.  

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in the United States, an estimated 10 million people experience domestic violence every year.  

Five F’s: Steps of faith that helped me get over my past, to my deliverance

Step 1: Forgiveness – I forgave my significant other, all my enemies, and myself. I accepted full responsibility for allowing all of the things that took place during my relationship, and realized I couldn’t expect God to forgive me of my sins on a daily basis if I couldn’t forgive those people who have hurt me.  “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses,” (Matthew 6:14-15).  

When God forgives, He forgets our sins, clears the record, and erases the tape so that when He pushes the button in heaven to show our sins on the big screen, the screen remains blank. There’s nothing to see! 

Step 2: Forgo – According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate to “cut off ties”…

Step 3: Fortify – I kept myself covered (i.e., fortified) with the name of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Each day, I remain girded up as a soldier on the battlefield for the kingdom.  

Step 4: Faith – I choose to walk by faith and not by sight. I choose to believe that God will do what His word says that He will do. Each day, I continue this journey of faith because it is only by faith, that we as believers can please the Lord.

Step 5: Fly – I purposed in my mind that I would succeed because I was more than a conqueror through Him. I likened myself to the eagle in Isaiah 40:31 that tells us how it mounts up with wings. “Isaiah 40:31 says, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  

Also, a part of me soaring like an eagle is the fact that I’m writing my second book, titled Overcomer: Rising Above Adversity to Reach My Destiny that will be released in 2022. It will chronicle my life challenges of six years of abusive marriage, infidelity, and 20 years of health challenges including overcoming four cancers since I divorced my husband in 2003. I have survived colon cancer, gynecologic cancer, kidney cancer and breast cancer from 2004-present. My cancer history is due to family genetics, but since it started the year after my divorce, I believe stress helped in my downward health spiral. Only by the grace of God, I’m still here because I am not just a survivor, I am an overcomer through Christ who strengthens me. If you want to reach out to me, contact me through my website,

Abuse is not your fault and abuse is never okay. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, several free resources are available to help. If in immediate danger, call 911. Otherwise, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

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