Hostage

After storming the US Capitol, mobs of armed angry white men threaten and will likely descend upon state capitols around the country to assert their self-perceived dominance and hold the country hostage. Fear is one of their weapons.

Now you know how every woman who has experienced male violence feels.

Do you hide or stand up to them? Do you call them out or try to placate them? Do you educate their defenders who insist it was a one off or settle to know your own truth? Do you move this way? Or that way? Are they idle threats or will they carry them out? They’ve shown you what they’re capable but then they withdraw and blend back into normalcy so is it safe to breathe yet?

I penned my favorite saying. Once you know something you cannot unknow it. America now knows what every survivor of partner violence has known all along. This is what these guys are capable of. This is the degree of burn it to the ground take no prisoners destruction they live to carry out.

Sound sleeping is going to be a long time coming. You’ll always have one eye open now.

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Equal

I don’t know what it feels like to be black. But I do know what it feels like to be under the subjugation of a white man. No, I have not encountered it my entire life in the most mundane of activities, generation after generation. However, I have encountered misogyny in every corner of my life, as has every woman. I have experienced the corrosive effects of oppression while in a marriage that spanned decades. White supremacy and partner violence operate on the same principle, maintaining power and control by any means necessary and without conscience.

I was moved to tears recently as I drove down Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, its Civil War statues by the now nationally known edifices of an ideology which fails to acknowledge basic human rights. Bronze reminders of a refusal to accept the outcome of a war lost. Under the 130-year-old monument of Robert E Lee, black, white, young and old, gathered together to take in the enormity of what had occurred in the previous week. Protests that changed the landscape, both literally and figuratively, came to rest in this space.

Seeing the monument, now finally relevant with spray-painted sentiments of a collective soul battered and reclaimed, I was suddenly freed from the heavy weight of my late husband’s closeted racism. Always, there with no apologies. He was raised in a South that embraced a separate set of rules for white men and he himself believed that status quo suited him.

Watching the peaceful gathering around the statue, I experienced an enormous sense of freedom as well. I felt released and instantly restored from another layer of identity theft. Choosing to stop trying to reason with him at the wrongness of his horrifyingly unacceptable racism, battles I didn’t have the energy to fight, I eventually accepted that was the way it was. It was another sacrifice of my beliefs to accommodate him and in that, another betrayal of who I was. That silence felt complicit. I have to continually deprogram that and reorient my thinking even now, years after he is gone.

Like in my own life, the chaos is over, leaving somber remnants of the fight but also leaving peace. Though the trauma will remain, there is finally a glimmer of light after so much darkness. Yet truly, the work has only just begun. And I know this; it gets harder before it gets easier.

Now is the endurance test. The test that weeds out the dreamers from the determined. Can we go the distance without wearying? It will take relentless effort yet I believe together we can create a society where oppressors are not only held accountable but will also not be tolerated and looked away from as they perpetuate their agendas. I believe each of us must play a part in success. If it is to be, it is up to me.

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Navigating Ambiguous Loss

The global pandemic has thrust us into a sudden state of shared trauma. The rug feels like it’s been pulled out from under our feet as everything about our world changed in a moment. At first reeling, most of us have settled into a state of being stunned by everything we knew to be our lives turning upside down and now every societal structure seems unstable. With more questions than answers, we see no clear vision of a right-siding and a path forward.

Cycling up and down, most of us at some point of the day or week fight a looming sense of helplessness, trying not to surrender to hopelessness. Without being dependably anchored in our daily routine we are effectively adrift at sea with no land in sight, counting days passed, uncertain of what to expect in the days ahead with more questions than answers.

That is a lot to sit with. It’s extraordinarily difficult to sit with, to be in the midst of. It triggers our primal responses to fight, flee, or freeze. Each of us approaches it differently. Any of us who have experienced profound trauma recognize the urgency to “return to normal”, to do something familiar in a resumption of our daily routine, is fueled by the unconscious attempt to mitigate the sudden destabilization. And in sitting in this moment of quiet, of isolation, of fear and uncertainty, we are also grieving.

Once this is over, and the history of time has proven all things pass, we will undoubtedly need to heal. We may never fully recover from being robbed of our sense of safety. Our trust that we will get through this, in systems we depended on to protect us and our loved ones, both internal and external, will need to be rebuilt as we proceed cautiously. We may never be fully confident it’s over. We may always have in the back of our mind something, anything may take us back here.

But your world and my world and our world will return. Differently, no doubt. We will continue to mourn the losses both of life and what we left behind. Each one of us will recreate our lives and this period of trauma will play a part in it. Still, we will break bread with those we love again, engage in the rituals that replenish us, do things we loved before, again. There will be new opportunities to leave behind outdated thoughts and processes that no longer serve us. We were created to adapt and adapt we will.

“All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”- Julian of Norwich

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The Toll Of Violence

I survived being shot by my husband. I survived his suicide. I survived my grief and navigating my children through their grief journeys. I survived burying the beliefs of who I trusted him to be as I faced the undeniable truths of who he was.

Still, I cannot say that survival is any more than a day to day proposition. This blog is littered with posts where I considered my options. As Laurence Gonzales notes in Surviving Survival, “our ongoing survival requires relentless attention.” There is no mastery over trauma and PTSD after violence, no arrival at the day when it is left squarely behind.

Even within my hopefulness and optimism, a darkness lies and only a sound, an event, a stress, fatigue, open the door for it to emerge. I suspect anyone who has survived violence experiences the same, it’s just not something we talk openly about. Perhaps in our minds to acknowledge it gives it too much space to expand, perhaps we want to pretend it isn’t there and we can be who we were, before.

Some of my dearest friends, survivors of gun violence, are reeling today, gutted with the loss of a bright light in their lives after the suicide of someone whose darkness and demons were put upon him as a young toddler watching the murder of his mother at the hands of his stepfather with a gun. My heart aches for all. I know too well the feeling of wishing for a final kind word, an embrace, wishing for foreknowledge to intervene for a rescue. And I know the sense of profound loss.

His death is a sobering reminder that even with all the resources and support out there, grief is a singular and lonely journey and we have absolutely no say over what someone chooses to do to escape it. We are left only to pick up the pieces and create some sort of meaningful mosaic out of their untimely death, and their lives.

We want the happy ending, to know that it all turned out okay, especially for those of us whose children witnessed partner violence and experienced our shootings. The truth is it doesn’t always turn out okay and that is extraordinarily painful to accept.

We can do our best to provide support and intentional intervention to those who have experienced violence. We can check in with them in person rather than through social media interactions. We can notice random but perhaps guised goodbyes. We can let them know we, too, struggle at times and share how we are able to move through it. Ultimately, however skewed their perspective, when someone makes the choice in silence, it is beyond our control.

As survivors, we can practice sitting with pain, with grief, with the sometimes unbearable weight of trauma rather than running from it. We can teach our children as well. We can let go of the sense that everything needs to be perfect, of absoluteness, of holding on to outcomes so tightly we aren’t free to appreciate what is before us. And I hope we can, here and now, make a pact of love to agree to take it one day at a time, to wait another 24 hours before acting on feelings of self-harm, and in that time reach out of the abyss; to stop the cycle of violence at us.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to 741741.

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Holiday Storms

There was an intimate partner murder near where I live on Thanksgiving evening. It hit me hard as I envisioned how it happened, in the recall of the moments of my own shooting. A seemingly wonderful man, a youth pastor, killed his wife, her adult daughter, and boyfriend. Both were physical therapists visiting for the holiday. It happened a year after a church friend’s sister was murdered by her fiance in front of her small children, left to bleed to death. Neither likely understood the unique dynamics of abuse and holidays. Both reminded me of how unlikely it is to survive.

Of course, it is clear now neither murderer was a wonderful person at all and that once again, public images can be deceiving. Neighbors who say he was a “nice guy” don’t really know who he was. We don’t know what others are doing behind closed doors, only the persona they choose to project to the world outside.

My husband would wait until the children woke up on Christmas morning, excited to open presents. He’d then proceed to either wander outside without explanation or get in the car and leave, leaving the children to question if he was coming back, and starting the day with a(nother)black cloud hovering over our every move. There was hell to pay for not waiting for him, and children’s sadness and disappointment if we did. If we went to visit family he couldn’t wait to get back home to start picking. What I said, what I wore, how ungrateful I was, how I didn’t control the kids… Rare was a holiday or special event that wasn’t darkened by his moods.

Abusers tend to purposefully disrupt family gatherings. They can’t stand their partners focus being on anyone else, even their kids, or anyone being happy. It means their family has feelings they aren’t in control of and that spells trouble, especially if the holidays involve extended family ergo support systems. The abuser will go to any length it takes to interrupt the day, and violence is common.

As the holidays approach it’s a good time to revisit safety planning. Prepare. Be sure to leave your purse especially keys, coats and shoes by the door and an overnight bag for you and the kids hidden away from home, perhaps with a friend. If the niggling starts, no matter how small it starts, it’s likely to escalate. Always move towards an exit instead of interior rooms, and out of the kitchen. Be sure the kids know to get out of the house and call 911. Prearrange a neighbor for them to go to.

Here’s the thing. You think you can manage it. But you can’t, any more than you can manage a volcano erupting. Take action. Call the police if needed. Take out a protective order, which is only a piece of paper but carries weight in jobs and social standing and violation can result in arrest.

The more they get away with the more they will try to. One day or another it will become life-threatening. Regardless of whether it involves physical abuse or verbal and emotional abuse. The later can develop into physical violence, in too many cases lethal, in an instant. A vast majority of women murdered by partners never called the police, never accessed DV services to safety plan or develop a sustainable plan to safely leave the relationship.

Announcing plans or intentions to leave, or not to put up with it anymore can be the tipping point. Call your local domestic violence agency today to talk about what you need to have in place and be supported. 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) can connect you with the org near you. Be safe.

Wishing you peace.

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