Friday, May 19, 2017

Let Go of the Rope

In his book Friedman’s Fables, Edwin H. Friedman tells the story of a young man who had worked hard to learn and grow so that he could use his gifts and do something in the world. Finally the window of opportunity opens. Excited about his future, the young man headed for town. 
        As he began to cross the bridge that led to the center of the city, he noticed a man coming toward him uncoiling a rope from around his waist. The man stopped in front of the young man and asked him if he would hold the end of the rope for a moment. Surprised by this incident and being a kind person, the young man took the end of the rope. The man gave a stern directive to hold tight with both hands then he promptly jumped over the side of the bridge. He was suspended above the rushing river.  
The young man, not being strong enough to pull the man up, held tight and braced himself against the edge of the bridge so the jumper wouldn’t fall to his death. He called to the jumper to climb up the rope. But the man reminded the young man that he had promised to hold on and was now in change of the jumper life. The young man suggested other ways the jumper could help save his own life but his pleas were ignored.
When I read this story, I saw this as a perfect metaphor for abusive relationships. They arrest our life, dreams, hopes and passions. We become totally responsible for taking care of another’s needs. And like the jumper, abusers don’t care that the person holding the rope is forced to give up his or her life. The abuser is not willing to make any changes, preferring the status quo. 
Understanding that the jumper refuses to help himself, the young man relinquishes the responsibility for the outcome to the jumper. He clearly states that if the jumper doesn’t climb up the rope, he will let go. Like our abusers, the jumper tried all his old ticks to force the young man to hang on.  We were told:
  • I can’t live without you
  • I’m sorry/I will change
  • You said you loved me
  • I’ll kill myself and/or you
  • I’ll take the children away from you
  • You are too stupid and inept to survive without me
  • No one else would ever want you
These are only a few of the physical and emotional threats. 
Because we have been conditioned to believe that we are responsible for our partner’s well being, we do a number on ourselves thinking:
  • If I had been a better partner this wouldn’t be happening
  • I made my bed, now I have to lay in it
  • I promised to stay
  • He’s in pain, I have to help him/fix him
  • I can’t make it on my own
Along with many other derogatory messages that have been embedded in our psyche.
If you haven’t already, it is time to give the responsibility for you partner’s life back to your partner. Let go of the guilt, feelings of responsibility and sympathy. Let go of the rope.

Monday, March 27, 2017

If He'd Just Stop Drinking: Domestic Abuse and Alcohol

While both alcohol use and violence may appear in a relationship, they are independent issues. Those of us who lived with abusers who were also heavy drinkers often claimed, “If he’d just stop drinking, everything would be okay.” Many members of society still believe that alcohol or drug use causes abuse. However, there is no research to support that theory. Studies indicate that the “majority (76 percent) of physical abuse incidents occur in the absence of alcohol use.”(1) Also, the majority of heavy drinkers do not abuse their partners. Studies do indicate that the use of alcohol allows abusers to more easily enforce their own internal rules through any means. This results in a higher rate of injuries to partners of heavy drinkers who are abusers.

As defined by The National Institute on Drug Abuse: 

Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is a diagnosable disease characterized by a strong craving for alcohol, and/or continued use despite harm or personal injury. Alcohol abuse, which can lead to alcoholism, is a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one's health, interpersonal relationships, or ability to work. (2 & 3)

Domestic violence defined by the National Coalition Against Domestic Abuse:

Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically; however, the one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other. (4)

Alcohol can intensify an already difficult situation. Continued use of what was once used to self-medicate anxious feelings, may now increase that anxiety. Combined with the predisposition to control one’s partner and the growing fear of losing that control, alcohol may exacerbate the situation, resulting in an increased risk of severe injury or death for the victim. 

Removing alcohol from the picture may temporarily reduce the violence, but the desire to control at all costs, embedded within the core of the perpetrator, remains. The abuse will not only continue but its severity will likely escalate. 

There are specific strategies used to gain and hold a position of power. The controlling partner: 

Isolates the victim from family and friends. They are a threat because they may confirm the victims initial feelings that something is wrong with the relationship and encourage her to leave. 

Plays mind games by putting her down, redirecting conversations or disrupting her plans, instilling confusion and mistrust in herself. (5)

Creates constant chaos around the victim to keep her off balance and focused on “making things better.” The victim feels that resisting is more difficult than complying because they are exhausted by the overwhelming expectations and demands.

Threatens to harm the victim, her pets or children to assure that she will be reluctant to reach out for help. 

Demonstrates omnipotence or power by controlling all finances, withholding information or flaunting the law. Keeping track of her through constant phone calls, texts or tracking devices instills a sense that resistance is futile.

Humiliates and degrades the victim in public or private. She becomes reluctant to be around others—furthering her isolation. As her self-esteem declines, her dependence on the controlling partner increases.

Enforces trivial demands by a creating petty rules to fortify his control. Every time she performs one of these tasks it reinforces that he holds the power.

The insidiousness of the above behaviors is topped off with an occasional indulgence—an act of kindness. This “gift” to the victim throws her off balance and motivates her to comply and believe that “He will change.” She may minimize and deny what he is doing to her. When the abuse returns, she feels hopeless and helpless.

When I asked Doctor Darald Hanusa (who developed a well respected batterer’s treatment program(6)), why men abuse their partners, he responded without hesitation. “Because they can.” Society has taught them that it is permissible to control your partner through violence. 

Violent partners often use alcohol as an excuse for their bad behavior. They also claim to have lost control because they were angry and frustrated. However, those who treat batterers agree that assaulting is always a matter of choice. The fact that they only abuse their partner, not their boss or associate, dispels the out-of-control claim. In addition, they usually abuse in private and are careful to not leave bruises where they can be seen. 

One batterer who went through treatment shared his perspective. “It was like having a new toy," he said. "I had the buttons and I could make her do whatever I wanted. I was trying to intimidate her. I wanted to control her for the simple reason that I knew I could do it. It made me feel powerful.”(7)

Abuse is not a disease like alcoholism. It is a choice. 

Both domestic abuse and alcoholism wreak havoc on our families.

For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now.

For confidential help regarding substance abuse call the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation at 1-800-257-7810

  1. (
  2. Alcohol | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)  
  4. (
  5. I am using he as the perpetrator and she as the victim for ease of writing. Either men or women can and do abuse.
  6. Darald Hanusa Ph.D., L.C.S.W
  7. (

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The War Between Men and Women

I don’t know where the belief that men and women are at war came from. I really didn’t know much about this concept before I married.

My vision for marriage was two people working together to build a safe and loving home for their children. They would be helpmates, confidants, giving of themselves to make life better for one another. Creating the proverbial “soft place to land” for every member of the family.

I was stunned when words of confrontation spewed from my partner’s mouth. There was a war between the sexes he claimed. His over-riding message was that he was going to get me before I got him. He accused me of fighting for domination over him, manipulating situations to make him look bad, betraying him, creating power struggles to beat him down and turn him into a wuss. Fighting? Domination? Manipulating? Betraying? Power struggles? I remember being dumbfounded at how he saw our relationship and who he believed I was. 

One day I asked, “Why does our marriage have to be a war?” His response was that the war between men and women had been going on forever. “Why?” I asked. He dismissed me as if I was an idiot.

Everyday, like a wrestler, he’d stare me down as he circled the mat. I tried to explain that I was not at war with him—I was on his side. He insisted that I wasn’t. That I was playing him. He did all in his power to force me into a corner so I would fight. I refused to have any part of it.

The more hostel he became the more loving I became. I thought that would make a difference. After all, love can heal a wounded heart. I believed that if I continued to reassure him that I was not a threat to him, and if I returned love for his fury, he would come around. I mean, love always wins, doesn’t it? 

Being a people pleaser I bowed down and then bowed down lower until I became a doormat. That didn’t change anything. He still raged on. In the end, my response was what it always had been, I did nothing and said nothing more about it. All I could do was watch his hostility mushroom, escalating into a tempestuous storm.

Inside, I knew who I was and what my intentions were. He did, as abusers do, continue to tell me who I “really” was and what I was “really” thinking, summoning up an adversary to justify his hostility. I didn’t argue with him. It would have made no difference. Yet, I wondered, “If I’m so horrible, why does he stay with me?”

Why did I stay? I stayed with him until the pain of staying was greater than my fear of surviving on my own.

One of my favorite spiritual leaders is Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun. She spoke at my Presbyterian church a few years ago. I was thrilled to hear her again when Oprah interviewed her on Soul Sunday (OWN).

Sister Joan said, “Nothing is going to change in the world until the situation with women changes.”

That resinated with me. 

She went on to talk about how women carry the other half of humankind’s life experiences. Yet women’s needs, gifts and intelligence are dismissed. Women should to be at the table or only half of life experience and knowledge are involved in making important decisions. “Isn’t that why the poorest of the poor are women and children?” she pointed out.

Marriage should not be a war, but a collaboration, a way to examine all the intricacies of a question in order to make the best decision for all involved. Doesn't it make sense to have those with additional information give input and be a part of the conversation?  Controlling men refuse to accept that women would not make decisions that favor themselves and children at men’s expense. What women see as a negotiation resulting in a win-win controllers see as a loss for them.

Women desire a partnership, but those with a sense of entitlement can only see that as a threat to their position and power. It is common for controlling people to take an issue such as wanting an equal voice and blow it up into a something outrageous. Consider the term “feminist.” It has been contorted by some into meaning “man-haters” when it really means having equal opportunities, equal pay for equal work, a seat at the table in decisions that affect them, you know that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” thing?

When it comes to war, Sister Joan says, “Women are the booty of war. Their bodies have become an instrument of war. Their children have become the fodder of war. Their homes have become the rubble of war. Their daily struggles to live have become one of the horrors of war and their futures have been left shattered in the shambles of war through they have nothing whatsoever to say about the waging of wars.”

When I heard that statement, I thought of the women and children refugees that are currently in the news. It also made me think of the women and children living with domestic violence. They, too, become refugees from the war waged within their homes. It may be on a smaller scale, but to the those who suffer from the ravages created by a controlling partner, it is no small issue. Women in both those situations are running for their lives and the lives of their children.

When people ask Sister Joan, “What can we do?” She replies, “Something.” Make a difference in the circle that surrounds you. Do what you can to stand up for the other half.

Many of you are already standing up against domestic abuse as advocates, shelter workers, volunteers, speakers, therapists and by financial contributions. Today, I salute you for doing something. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Be Still and Know

A fresh, unblemished new year yawns out before us. What will we do with it? I like to set an intention, not make resolutions. Don’t we all hate rules? We set them up and when we cannot follow through with them we beat ourselves up. Let’s be kinder to ourselves this year. 

I’ve been thinking about what my intention will be for this year. Part of it is to increase the amount of joy in my life. Last year was so heavy and turbulent it held many moments of happiness at a low simmer. I’m glad to lay 2016 down and move on. There is still much work to do. I won’t roll over or hide my head in the sand. Supporting causes I believe in is necessary. It is also important to take time to experience things I enjoy and enjoy the things I experience.

Late last fall I attended a woman’s retreat. Early one morning I trudged across the frosted hillside to the labyrinth. After a prayer for guidance, I moved along the narrow pathway thinking about joy and where I was in my life. It’s everything I could hope for. Everything I worked for. The things I didn’t achieve were okay, too. 

As I walked along I began to feel all my ancestors walking with me—the people whose shoulders I stand on. The ones who laid the foundation of possibilities for me, struggled in their own lives, came to America penniless—farmers, a builder and a housekeeper. Also, those who stayed in the “old country," as my grandmother called it. I felt their strength and support as I placed one foot in front of the other. 

That is how we make our life—step by step—all of us going through trials and successes, stumbling backwards, pushing forward. Along this journey, what we learn blooms inside of us and cannot be unlearned. Oh, we can squish it down for a while, but the truth will not be silenced. So, we change, growing into the person we are meant to be and building onto the foundation for those who will follow.

With a silent prayer uttered below a sliver of the moon in the azure sky, I left the labyrinth. In the lodge, I stopped into the gift shop. A polished stone caught my attention. Etched into it in tiny letters was “be still.” Its other side finished the verse “and know that I am God” Psalms 46:10. That little stone sits on my desk. My intention for this year will be stillness. My mantra for this year—Be Still and Know. Know that we are not alone. Know that we continue to grow stronger. Know that we can choose faith over fear. Know we have much to be grateful for. 

And gratefulness births Joy.

I wish you all a year filled with Joy.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Celebrating Miracles: Hope, Light and Joy

This year both Christmas Eve and the beginning of Hanukkah fall on the same day. One celebrating the miracle of God’s grace in providing light and hope to His people. The other celebrating the miracle of God’s own son’s birth, the light of the world bringing hope to the world. These two celebrations have overlapped only 4 times in the last 100 years. I believe that this being one of those years is no accident.

It would be an understatement for me to say that 2016 has been difficult and painful in many ways for all the people of this world. Whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim or of no religious affiliation, you felt the weight of hatred and violence. The media has drowned us in the horrors of hate crimes, terrorism and war. Countries are divide against each other and themselves. Hate mongers have been spewing their doctrines in an effort to make us fearful and mistrust one another. Innocent people have been slaughtered. It feels like hate is winning. It’s made many of us afraid for the future.

However, If we look past our fear, we will see the unreported rise of goodness, the speckles of miracles and light. People who are working tirelessly, in war-torn countries and in disaster areas to help the suffering, others feeding the poor and needy. People reaching out to other cultures in peace as an extended family. We may not be able to join those working on the world’s stage, but we can make a difference in our own communities. 

We can seek first to be kind to everyone around us. We can open our hearts and strive to understand each other’s feelings and life experiences. We can cut each other some slack in stressful times. We can build relationships based on the things we agree on, exhibit patience with one another and stand up to hate and violence. We can connect with an organization that serves a benevolent cause. Support them with our time or financially. 

Every faith tradition in the world is based on the same premise: treat others as we would want to be treated. They may use different words, but the message is the same. It is time to let those words reverberate in our hearts again and live them.

You may feel as I do—glad this year has come to an end. I’m especially grateful that it ends with celebrations that reminds us of miracles, hope, light and joy. 

Last night at my church, people from the three major faith communities gathered to celebrate the Longest Night for the Children of Abraham. We sang a song that said: How good it is and how lovely for all to dwell together. Hiney ma tov sheved achim gam yachad. I plan to hold these worlds in my heart. 

May the memories of the miracles of this season transform us into the kind, just and hopeful people we are called to be.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What To Say to a Victim of Abuse

Last month we heard from two survivors of domestic violence. They shared the painful comments they received from others when they disclosed that they were in abusive relationships. This month let’s look at what victims need to hear from their families and friends. 

The best thing a friend or family member can do, is to listen to and confirm the victims feelings. 

“I’m sorry this happened to you.”

Victims need to know that you believe them. You may be totally shocked and never saw any signs. It’s easy to respond with “I can’t believe it” when taken by surprise. If you do, stop yourself and confirm that you believe she is telling the truth and you are in her corner.

If you are not surprised, be kind with your words. Telling her you saw it coming or you were aware of it all along, can be hurtful and make her feel more foolish than she already does. The above statement is enough. Let her talk. You be a good listener.

Be careful not to demonize the perpetrator. Stay with confirming that his behavior was wrong. If you attack him, she may feel the need to protect him and not take steps to leave. 

Let her experience her own anger. Confirm her right to her feelings. Refrain from becoming angry and going off on a tirade. If you do, you will be carrying her anger for her. She needs to feel it and deal with it herself. Let her know that you are a safe person to whom she can express her feeling.

 “You don’t deserve to be treated like that.”

Victims have been brainwashed to believe that the abuse is their fault. There may have been times when she fought back, making her feel she participated in the violence, even provoked it. We know that women fight back only in an attempt to protect themselves or their children. 

“The abuse is not your fault.”

Perpetrators pick apart everything a victim does or says and constantly criticizes them. Victims internalize this and feel shame—believing they are inherently inadequate and incapable. Remind her that she is not responsible for his violent choices—he is.

“You deserve better.”

Remind her of all the wonderful things about her. Her abuser has been telling her how worthless and stupid she is. Help her see her gifts and abilities. 

Additional ways to help:

  • Call the police immediately if you witness any abuse.
  • Offer to help her find a shelter or do the research on your own so you are ready to help in an emergency.
  • Offer to let her call for help from your cell or home phone when she is ready to reach out for help.
  • Ask if it is okay for you to take pictures of any bruising or injuries on her. Print them, write the date on the back and keep them in a safe place. They can be used as evidence, later.
  • Keep a dated list of abuse that you have witnessed. It can be helpful if she goes to court.
  • Note on your calendar dates when you saw bruising on her. Include the location on her body, their size and color. Again this helps prove on-going abuse and can result in a longer sentence for the perpetrator.
  • See Safety Planning information in the tab at the top of this page. Go over the information together. Offer to keep a suitcase of her clothing and important documents at your house should she need to leave her home quickly. Have a signal that tells you she is in danger and you should call the police.
Abusers can be very dangerous. Those who have never used physical violence, may do so when the victim is trying to leave. Never put yourself in danger by confronting the abuser. Even if you think you can reason with him, you can’t. Most likely, your good intention will give the perpetrator an excuse to attack the victim or you.

Standing with a victim who is struggling to decide whether or not to leave can be difficult. You know she should leave, but she may not be ready to make that move for many logical reasons. If you cheerlead her out of the relationship before she is ready to stay out, she will most likely return to him. Feeling she has let you down will add to her already burgeoning guilt. She doesn’t need that. Let her know that you will continue to love her and will respect her decision even if you disagree.

It takes courage to walk with a friend through domestic abuse. It may weigh heavy on you. If so, shelter  hotlines or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-7997233) can be a resource to give you guidance and support as you help your friend.

Helping someone else, should never hurt you. If you feel overwhelmed, take care of yourself. Give your friend the number for the shelter and the national hotline. There are others who are trained to work with victims. You can be the seed planter and let the professionals take over.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

How Not to Respond to a Victim of Abuse in the Military

My second blogging guest is Regina Vasquez, a Marine Corps Veteran. She is an advocate for Veterans and service members at Veteran Advocate and Founder & Executive Director at Fatigues Clothesline. She has been a member of One Billion Rising Veteran Empowerment Team USA and Volunteer-Womens Veterans Advocate

Regina is an artist see her work at Art by Regina Vasquez.

With gratitude for her years of service and the work she does now, I share her thoughts:

My name is Regina and I'm a Fully Disabled Marine Veteran living with symptoms of PTSD. I like to think of myself as someone of faith and within my faith I found the strength to be strong.  I am 37 years old. I have overcome obstacles that leaves others in awe and wondering how did I do it. For starters, I mentioned I am a woman of faith. God helped me through it. There were many instances I was thrown off course towards healing but I've regained myself and prayed for guidance to get myself back on that path.

Some of the instances that thrown me off of my path were people who I thought were friends. Ever heard the saying, you find out who your friends are when times get tough?  Well, I did find out and boy did it almost crush me.  

I was involved in a domestic violent relationship. My husband felt he was entitled to break me down by hitting and calling me crazy to the point it skyrocketed my symptoms of PTSD through the roof. I even checked myself into the mental ward because I was made to feel worthless. 

I had a friend, a Marine as well who I confined in about the abuse I endured. Her reaction to what I told her left me feeling confused and hurt. I explained how he called me a c*** and after I asked him multiple times to stop I felt compelled to slap his mouth out of defense. In turn he slapped me so hard across my face and nearly broke my jaw and started beating me up. I couldn't move. He irritated the service connected injuries I had to my back and neck.

What my friend told me after confiding in her I would never ever tell another veteran or non veteran friend.

“You’re a Marine, he had to defend himself. What do you expect?"

I will never forget those words. They made me doubt and question myself. After I left her house I made a promise to myself to never talk to her again. I don't ever want to talk to a person who feels it's ok for someone to beat another person no matter what kind of training we had. I may be a Marine but I do not deserve to be called a c*** or get beaten for defending myself. I understand I should have never slapped him but that never gave him the right to beat me to the point of fearing for my life.

I feel so disgusted having to talk about this. I would never ever say those words to someone. Instead I would have giving myself a hug and talk about resources to help me.