Anna’s Story Part 2
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Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I’m the Executive Director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God’s redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.

Warning: For adult audiences only. We advise listener and reader discretion

Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I’m the executive director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God’s redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.

Last time on the Safe to Hope podcast, I interviewed Sheila Gregoire. And we spoke about purity culture, self-esteem, emotions, among other things as it relates to our storyteller this season. Anna is back again today to share the second half of her story. And help us understand her process by sharing some of the ways the Lord spoke to and carried her during a really dark time. Welcome back to the podcast, Anna.

Anna
Hi, Marie. Thank you. I’m grateful to be here again.

Ann Maree
And I’m grateful to see your beautiful face again and hear your story. And we continue to look forward to seeing how God is redeeming your story in His. Our goal has always been and is throughout this 12 week series to hear you your circumstances and experience, but also to hear how God’s redemptive thread flows throughout.

By way of reminder on the Safe to Hope podcast names have been changed in order to protect those associated with these stories.

The HelpHer ministry exists to help people in crisis and to train people helpers. So integrity is one of our concerns. To the best of our ability, we have sought to honor the privacy and dignity of those who share their precious stories with us. Before we begin, I’d like to share with our audience that there may be some things discussed that can be triggering. If you’re a victim or survivor, we want to just let you know, Anna’s story may be hard to hear. Maybe find a trusted friend to sit with or someone you can talk to and process with after you’ve heard her experience. Also, some of what we talked about in Anna’s story might be considered more appropriate for adult audiences. We advise listener and reader discretion.

Anna, when we last spoke, you were telling us about the years before you were married. If we can, let’s just pick up right after the wedding. What was life like then?

Anna
Sure, when we got married and began living together in my apartment, feelings of hopelessness quickly surfaced in me. Since we were now never apart aside from work, I felt all the more trapped and isolated. I really believed that I had nowhere to turn. This was largely because of the persona I believed Alex had within our families and our community. One reason for this was that he had met with men in leadership within our church, and expressed that our relationship was not doing well. And that he was so concerned for me and my mental state without offering any other context for why that might be. This created a dynamic where I was incredibly embarrassed and believed that I was viewed as unstable and therefore not credible. But I also really believed this about myself much of the time, in the midst of being abused, I would think to myself or even yell out at him that this is abuse. And then I would quickly regret saying or thinking this and tell myself that I was overreacting. I had such a lack of understanding of the different ways that a person can be abused, such as emotional abuse. And the ignorance in me was also a factor in feeling like I didn’t have the right to ask for help. I worked multiple jobs that didn’t pay much and Alex kept quitting jobs or getting fired from jobs. He would claim that he was being treated unfairly or didn’t like the job. And I was in the dark about the true reasons for his getting fired multiple times since he claimed the situations were unjust. He complained about not moving up the ladder of position within the company of every job, he worked at though. So I suspect, a poor attitude and work ethic played a role in these things happening over and over again. Because of this consistent job turnover, we were incredibly financially insecure, which added another layer of feeling trapped. I also had made the choice to not pursue higher education, and basically built my life around being a wife to Alex, and hoped, eventually a mother to his children, which is something that I wrestle with regret and shame about this to this day. But this created a situation where I would only get hired at workplaces that paid very little.

Ann Maree
You’re so right, Anna, financial restrictions of any kind leave a vulnerable woman in an impossible situation. It’s difficult to think about reporting what’s going on in the home knowing that if you report you may end up in a more precarious situation. And oftentimes, that is what happens, women leave abusers with little more than what they can fit in a black garbage bag. And then they face the obstacles of having to provide for themselves, or often and often with children, as well. What else was happening in your world at this time?

Anna
Sexually, I felt I had no voice and I felt pressured into many things that I wasn’t ready for. And most of the time, I felt incredibly humiliated. There was a certain look that he would get during sex, or really during any physical contact that made me feel so objectified. And he would get furious with me if I would start to cry during sex, or if I would ask him to stop. He also would often spend long amounts of time in the bathroom, and later I realized that he was viewing pornography. And when I would ask him about it, he would become furious with me and would create bizarre excuses for why he was doing this. If I pushed the issue further, he would yell and rage at me. And often the cycle of trapping me in rooms will begin again, if I attempted to create space from him. There was so much abuse in the years that followed, it honestly feels overwhelming to recall all of it. And also, much of it is foggy in my mind. I’ve come to learn that this is a normal response to abuse. That is often called disassociation. I would use my phone to scroll for hours and zone out or my body would quite literally crash and I would fall asleep while I was experiencing panic attacks. I call these the ‘dark years’ not only because they were filled with painful memories, and countless moments of emotional abuse, physical violence and spiritual manipulation. But also my perception of time became really skewed. I was with Alex a total of seven years, but about five of those years feel like a blur to me. I felt empty and numb to my life. I also know that God designs our bodies to protect themselves and I see His care in keeping me from feeling and experiencing this all at once. There were also times that I did try to look at the abuse squarely. And in those moments, I would feel so ashamed, heartbroken, trapped. And frankly, I often ask God to just let me die. It has since brought me comfort that King David had similar sentiments in response to oppression in his life.

Ann Maree
So hard to hear, Anna I’m sure even harder in experience. But when you get to a place where you ask God, just let me die. The devastation of that life. Yeah. And just to be clear that’s not a feeling that you have today. Right now. Let’s let’s flush this out a little bit the shame. I think we use this word often, and yet maybe don’t quite get the whole weight of it like we just were talking about it brings people to that place of wanting to be gone. So let’s talk about it. What did the shame tell you about who or what you are and what you believe to be true about yourself?

Anna
Yeah, I’m really glad that we’re touching on shame. Because while shame is a difficult emotion to define, I know that so much of how I found myself within an abusive relationship was due to shame. And a helpful description of shame that psychiatrist, Kurt Thompson says is that shame is silent, subtle, and characterized by the quiet self-condemning conversation that we’ve learned since we were kids. So basically, shame tells a story about who you are. So some of the things that shame told me about myself during this time was that I was untrustworthy, that I didn’t have the wisdom and discernment to avoid abuse. Honestly, I still struggle with this one at times. I struggled not to blame myself as I missed red flags, or saw them and still chose to stay. Or when I hear others ask how people can stay in abusive relationships when I would have suicidal ideation, and my husband would share that out of context with ministry leaders, shame reinforced the feeling that my emotions were not to be trusted. Shame told me that I did not have dignity or honor or respect from my own body, or as a woman, worth something and not a doormat. It told me that I was secondary to my husband. And then I was to defer to male opinions, and especially his. Shame told me that I didn’t have a voice, to keep myself small meaning to be meek, which I know that this is something that is in Scripture, and that Jesus Himself called us to do but in my case, and I think for a lot of women in the church, meekness is a biblical truth that gets applied inappropriately. And shame told me that I was to compare myself to other women, especially women who were wives and mothers and be just like them. It told me that I was a failure and at fault if I couldn’t have a marriage, like what theirs appeared to be. And I experienced shame for my anger towards the abuse and towards my abuser.

Ann Maree
Very helpful for walking that out. Thank you. Tell me some of the things and you may have mentioned a few but tell me what shame would tell you you could and couldn’t do and why.

Anna
And shame told me that I could not share what I was going through with anyone. That if I would open my mouth and ask for support, it would end up worse than before, and that everyone would turn on me. But honestly, most of the time, I didn’t even think to ask for help. It literally didn’t even enter my head to seek it out. And I think the reason why is because I believe that girls just don’t do that. Females are helpers. They’re the caretakers, the nurses, the mothers, the nurturers. Needing help and asking for it wasn’t really even in my vocabulary, and the nature of what transpired with my brother and my husband. Because of this, I had no category for discussing it. Because again, it was presented to me that things like that only happened to you from a stranger and not by your family member or boyfriend or spouse. So experiencing these things felt so shameful because it felt like there was nowhere to take it except to bury it deep inside and keep it a secret. And it didn’t even occur to me to ask for help, until physical abuse was incredibly severe as if I deserved all of the abuse that occurred prior to that.

Ann Maree
Right? Yeah. Shame lies to us. What did the abuse tell you about who you are?

Anna
Abuse told me that I was worthless.

Ann Maree
Yeah. What did shame tell you about the future or of hope?

Anna
Shame, told me that, that this is all there was, that I had no future outside of this relationship. And it told me that this is as good as it gets, and that I should be grateful.

Ann Maree

Again, I appreciate your kind of taking a deep dive there to help us articulate that word and understand it from a person who experienced it. You said you finally had a moment when fog began to lift, and you started recognizing what was happening and that you were in danger. I think many victims and survivors would also say they didn’t recognize what was happening as abuse. Many likely also have a similar wake up experience, if you can, tell us how that happened or what happened.

Anna
One incident is so clear to me, because it was the beginning of my accepting the reality of the abuse that was happening to me. I can’t remember what we were even arguing about, honestly, but I know, it quickly became very volatile with yelling and accusations from him. And, as was the pattern, I tried to get space in my bedroom. Alex blocked me in the doorway and refused to allow me to leave again. And this time, I tried to slap and push my way around him. By this point, I had grown so weary of freezing up and having panic attacks. And it felt like something inside of me switched from a freeze response to a fight response for my safety. After this, he struck me in the face very hard. And I immediately ran to put on my coat and was reaching for my keys, when he grabbed me by the arm and waist and dragged my body through the kitchen, and threw me onto the living room floor. I don’t remember what I screamed at him after this, but I know that I screamed, and honestly, I cursed and likely startled him with how upset I was, I don’t think I had gotten that upset before. And he just stood there and watched me leave. I spent the night at the home of one of our friends. And they encouraged us both to go to individual counseling. And although they had some other advice that was less than helpful. By God’s grace, I was placed with a biblical counselor who was also trauma and abuse informed. My counselor slowly helped me shift my thinking to see the cycle of abuse that I was in. And she also provided me with a voice through it all, which was something up until that point that I hadn’t experienced in my life. I see God’s care for me in using this time with my counselor to prepare me for the next five months, which were the last months that I ever lived with Alex. I had heard and been advised my whole life that as wives we were to not ever talk poorly about your husband to anyone. And because of this, it took me a couple of months in counseling to give specific examples of some of the abuse I was experiencing. But when I finally did, my counselor simply told me that is not okay. And encouraged me to come up with plans for safety if it occurred again. This was the first time I had ever heard anyone respond this way and it shocked me, I was so accustomed to advice regarding sinfulness, especially within marriage to be presented as an equalized, quote, sinning against one another in any circumstance. I was also accustomed to the mentality of quietly praying for your husband, and not intervening. Otherwise, I would be usurping his role as a leader. This was very different and very freeing advice from my counselor. As a result of what I was learning, I began to attempt to set boundaries, and not engage with abusive behavior. This was loss of control for Alex and it seemed to enrage him. The final night that I lived with him, his predictable entrapment of me in the bedroom occurred. And when I fought my way out, he chased behind me and grabbed me by my neck, and pushed me against the kitchen wall and strangled me. I don’t know how long this lasted. But I remember the feeling of panic and shock and gasping for air. Bizarrely, after he stopped strangling me, he actually tried to hug me. I reached up and struck his face with all of my strength. And he leapt back from me in shock and pain, and I frantically got my shoes on and grabbed my keys. And as I did this, he said to me, and this is just me quoting him here, ‘If you leave the apartment, I’m going to kill myself. If you leave, when you come back, I’ll be dead’. And this was not the first time that he tried to manipulate me into doing what he wanted by using this threat. And despite it, I sprinted out of the apartment and drove around for hours, sobbing and begging God to show me what to do.

Ann Maree
Wow, you just kind of ticked off so many levels of abuse, most significantly, strangling. And that’s important enough to just spend a moment talking about when somebody places their hands on another person’s neck. We know at least two things. First, we know that that person has the desire to cause significant harm and they are willing to do so. Law enforcement will advise that when someone tries to strangle they already have an inclination to kill. And then secondly, secondly, we know the situation is now life-threatening. Right, and that violence will only escalate from here. As advocates, we’ve learned this is the most dangerous circumstance for a woman who’s being abused. It is the biggest red flag to alert everyone involved that her safety is at significant risk. And I can’t emphasize enough the danger here Anna and oh, just also thinking about how you experienced this firsthand. I am saddened and so sorry, friend. And just again, to repeat how dangerous it is, if anyone in our audience listening has had a similar experience, we want to encourage you, seek help quickly, and of course, safely. One other thing to make note of is what happened right before this situation became deemed dangerous, Anna you spoke up for yourself and you acted on your own behalf. That’s significant if a wife or a woman or anyone is prohibited in any way from thinking or feeling or acting for themselves,  this is a sign that the relationship is not right. We all individually stand before the Lord. As His creatures created in His image we stand before Him as persons. In fact, we answer to him as persons not married people. So having your own thoughts, feelings and desires is important to the human experience as an image bearer and as a child of God. And again, for those listening who are in a similar situation. Please remember the risk involved when you express those thoughts, feelings and desires and get the appropriate help before and plan safety before. So you know how to escape should your situation escalate and sound like Anna’s did.

So now, the Lord met you in these circumstances. And then you felt it was wise to leave Alex? Of course, it was. And so what did life look like now?

Anna
Yeah, I, I stayed with friends within my faith community for the next week after this occurred. And then with another friend for the following month. The leadership of my church got involved quickly, and the majority of them believed me and took it seriously. After my month-long stay with my friend, they arranged for Alex to stay with a couple in our church and for me to return to my apartment, along with going to counseling, during the separation time, I was also desperately clinging to Scripture. Psalm 55 was one of the first passages that I read after we were separated. And it amazed me. It revealed to me that God hates abuse. And that helped me to name the anguish and betrayal. When someone harms you, especially somebody that is close to you. I’d love to share some of those passages from this Psalm. “They say, for it is not an enemy who taunts me, then I could bear it. It is not an adversary who deals insolently with me, then I could hide from him. But it is you a man, my equal my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together. My companions stretched out his hands against his friends. He violated his covenant. His speech was smooth as butter. Yeah, war was in his heart. His words were softer than oil. Yet they were drawn towards.”

Ann Maree
The hardest part for me, in those verses to hear or imagine you experience are, but it is “You a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend” who is abusive. It reminds me here of what you said in the first episode of your story, when you mentioned not having any categories for how to think about having someone close to you. Someone who even says they love you, as the person who is most dangerous to, and there just are no categories for that. Yet the psalmist helps put the experience towards words we can also find comfort from, but also assurance because the psalmist reminds us it is not we who break the covenant, when we distance ourselves from those who wish us harm. He says it was his companion who violated the covenant. There’s also information in this verse about the significance of verbal abuse to the whole person. David says he’s being taunted, provoked, challenged with sweet counsel speech as smooth as butter words are softer than oil. And that that verbal abuse is now like war, withdrawn swords. Scripture takes every form of abuse serious enough to consider it as a covenant breaker. And so should we. Anna, you mentioned it took a while to view your, your circumstances objectively. Tell me about that.

Anna
Yeah, it took many months for me to look critically at abuse. I think this was partly because I had been conditioned to believe that caretaking was my primary role as a woman and wife. And setting boundaries was just something I was still not understanding very well. But month after month, through the help of Scripture, through good resources on abuse and the support of friends and family. I began to see that the tides were not turning with Alex. At first, I really wanted reconciliation and all my friends in my faith community prayed for this as well. But about five months into being seperated from him, I discovered that he had been speaking to some of our mutual friends and all of his family and saying to them that I was abusive towards him, and that I was such an angry person, that that made him feel forced to treat me the way that he did. When I spoke to him on the phone about this, he responded by acting as if he were having a mental health crisis, and claimed that he was going to be admitted to a mental health facility. This later proved to be completely made up, and he never went to any facility. And this was not the first time that he pretended to do things like this. When we lived together, he would often claim to have seizure-like events and would fall to the ground or claimed to have, quote, blacked out, after he had physically harmed me in some way, and would claim to not remember doing any of it. And in these moments, I would always just drop everything and make sure he was okay. And minutes later, he would always be completely fine. I now believe he was doing these things to try to scare me into going to him to soothe and comfort yet again and to gain control of me and my emotions. The day he claimed to be on his way to a mental health facility, the Holy Spirit made it so clear to me that I needed to let go and move towards divorce. He made it so clear that while I had been begging God, to restore my marriage, the Spirit was interceding for my groanings too deep for words. Like it says in Romans 8:26. I knew that day that God cared more about my life than salvaging this marriage that was already destroyed by my husband’s abuse. The Holy Spirit was asking God to restore me.

Ann Maree
Great point, yes. Well, we want to see marriages restored primary to God is His concern for you as a person. And honestly, I’m just still shaking my head, I must admit I am having a hard time thinking of something a wife would do that could constitute the need for her husband to strangle her. And you bring up another interesting dynamic, which I find happens often in similar circumstances. And that being a real gap in our understanding in society, of course, but sadly, in the church, of knowing what a truly repentant person sounds like and does. I have been shocked to hear church leaders, pastors ask what right they have to decide if repentance has been genuine. For the record, let’s highlight some key dynamics of genuine repentance and I’m indebted to pastor Vince Wood. Who wrote this for the appendix of the PCA Domestic Abuse Sexual Assault Study report that was released in 2022 for the denomination. He exegetes 2 Corinthians 7:10 to 11, which is of course, the passages on Godly sorrow. Let me just read that couple verses. “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation. But the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this Godly sorrow has produced in you. What vindication of yourselves, what indignation. What fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong in everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.” And then pastor Wood breaks it down. Godly sorrow produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation. Does the abuser regret losing control? For behold what earnestness this very thing is the abuser working diligently to see a change? Does he faithfully complete all homework? Is his attitude serious toward changing his life? These are just a few questions that you could be asking in regards to these verses when you’re looking for repentance. As to Godly sorrow does he consistently express sadness for the harm he has done to others? When reminded of his sin does the abuser apologize or complain about his sin being, quote brought up again? Is his sorrow focused on the harm his actions did to others or on the hardship they brought to him? The verse says, “What vindication of your sorrows.” ask, does the abuser So repent as to promote restitution for his actions? Are the actions of the abuser establishing a new life pattern in which an accusation of abuse would just seem impossible? As for indignation, does the abuser hate what they’ve done? Is the abuser beating himself up for the sins he committed? This indignation will fuel earnest repentance. Regarding fear, is the abuser terrified that they might abuse again? As for longing, does the abuser look to the future with hope? Does the abuser imagine what it will be like to be trustworthy and safe again? And as for zeal, is repentance the driving factor in the abuser’s life? Is the abuser ever aware of his propensity to control? And is he committed to, quote, take every thought captive to the, to the obedience of Christ? And as for avenging of wrong is the abuser willing to make up for his wrongs to the very people he hurt? Does the abuser recognize why his victims don’t want to be around him? Does he willingly honor that desire? This is what the truth is. And Anna, you were not seeing that, right. But of course, abusers are master manipulators. So even those good words of truth from God can be twisted. But at least this passage gives a victim and a survivor and pastors and church leaders and counselors, a good start to recognizing if repentance is beginning to take place. And we know, after talking to hundreds of women, that while divorce affords some relief in the circumstances, the probability that harm will continue from, from perhaps other parties even is highly likely. So you know, were there other ways your husband’s abuse was used to further hurt you?

Anna
The following six months were definitely incredibly difficult. I was trying to move forward with the divorce while also trying to get on my feet financially. I could no longer afford to continue counseling. So I really relied on my faith community for support. The leadership of my church was, I believe, really well-intentioned. But unfortunately, some of the painful moments of this time occurred because decisions were made that didn’t include helping me to regain my dignity and voice after abuse. They had meetings without me present, where they would discuss details of my abuse. And on one occasion, in particular, my father-in-law, asked to meet with the leadership, while Alex refused to. And without checking in with me to see how I felt about it, they agreed to it and set it up. At this meeting, my father-in-law went into detail about many of the incidents of abuse that I had described in a text message to Alex months prior, and broke down why each incident was false in his eyes. And this included really descriptive detail of physical and sexual assaults that I had endured. They sat and listened to all of this, and I was informed later that these things took place by a third party and I was never spoken to directly about any of it from the leaders that were present. Nor was I ever approached again regarding my experiences in general, my abuse or regarding any care that I received, from anyone in a role of shepherding care. This was really mainly – just really confusing and ultimately reinforced, inside of me, some things I had believed about my worth and dignity through abuse. And it’s taken me many years to recognize this and untangle all of the impact of those decisions.

Ann Maree
And unfortunately, as you said, well-meaning folks tend to step in and simply take the place of a previous controller. And it’s important for a victim to set the pace for her own, her own situation, you Anna, are the one who would have to live with the consequences of those decisions. In the book, When Helping Hurts which is written to people helpers, desiring to serve in other countries, the author reminds the reader over and over, avoid paternalism at all costs. Never do for someone what they can do, and should do I would add for themselves. Again, we all stand as individuals before the Lord and answer for those decisions. Not to mention how restorative it is to have a voice after having had your thoughts, feelings and desires dismissed and shoved aside during your marriage. All very hard to hear. Anna, and as much as it’s been difficult, it is always such a pleasure, though, to talk to you. I’m typically in these podcasts just in awe of the scriptures that kind of they remain in your mind in your background in your situation. And God uses them to remind you of Him of His truth of His promises of his faithfulness. And I hear that when you talk. Thank you for sharing those specific passages for us as well.

I hope these episodes bless someone as they seek to put words to their own circumstances. And I hope that you are blessed as well.

Anna
Thank you, Ann Maree.

Ann Maree
Thank you for being with us on this episode. Please join Anna and I again on November 14, when Anna will give us a little insight into how God was with her during this difficult time. Some of the ways that she found comfort and what hope she would convey to pastors, leaders and counselors who might be listening.

On the next episode I’ll be talking to our Expert Contributor trauma-informed counselor Beth Broom. I look forward to hearing her particular insights into cases like Anna’s and the wisdom she will share with our audience.

If you want to know more about the dynamics of domestic abuse go to Called to Peace.org

Darby Strickland’s book Is It Abuse? is excellent for both victims and church leaders for identifying the patterns of abuse. Darby also has an excellent article on genuine repentance.

In addition, Dr. Jeremy Pierre and Dr. Greg Wilson’s book When Home Hurts is particularly helpful for church leaders.

 

Safe to Hope is a production of HelpHer. Our Executive Producer is Ann Maree Goudzwaard. Safe to Hope is written and mixed by Ann Maree and edited by Ann Maree and Helen Weigt. Music is Waterfall and is licensed by Pixabay. We hope you enjoyed this episode in the Safe To Hope podcast series.

Safe To Hope is one of the resources offered through the ministry of HelpHer, a 501C3 that provides training, resources, and the people necessary in order for the church to shepherd women well. Your donations make it possible for HelpHer to serve women and churches as they navigate crises. All donations are tax-deductible. If you’d be interested in partnering with this ministry, go to help her resources.com and click the donate link in the menu. If you’d like more information or would like to speak to someone about ministry goals, or advocacy needs, go to help her resources.com That’s help her resources.com

We value and respect conversations with all our guests. Opinions, viewpoints, and convictions may differ so we encourage our listeners to practice discernment. As well. guests do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of HelpHer. It is our hope that this podcast is a platform for hearing and learning rather than causing division or strife.

Please note, abuse situations have common patterns of behavior, responses, and environments. Any familiarity construed by the listener is of their own opinion and interpretation. Our podcast does not accuse individuals or organizations.

The podcast is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional care, diagnosis, or treatment.

If you would like to know more about the dynamics of domestic abuse if you have questions go to Called to Peace.org 

Darby Strickland’s book Is It Abuse? is excellent for both victims and church leaders for identifying the patterns of abuse.

And in addition, Dr. Jeremy Pierre and Dr. Greg Wilson’s book When Home Hurts is particularly hopeful, helpful and hopeful for church leaders.

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