Thursday, December 29, 2011

Letting Go



Dear Friends,
I don’t know who wrote this. If you do, please let me know. I would like to thank the author. This is perfect for the new year. Let’s agree to let go.  
She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.

She let go of the fear. She let go of the judgments. She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head. She let go of the committee of indecision within her. She let go of all the 'right' reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.
She didn't ask anyone for advice. She didn't read a book on how to let go... She didn't search the scriptures. She just let go. She let go of all of the memories that held her back. She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward. She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.

She didn't promise to let go. She didn't journal about it. She didn't write the projected date in her Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn't check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go.

She didn't analyze whether she should let go. She didn't call her friends to discuss the matter. She didn't do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn't call the prayer line. She didn't utter one word. She just let go.

No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.
There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn't good and it wasn't bad. It was what it was, and it is just that.

In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.


May this coming year bring you more joy and less worries that you expected. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hope/Hopelessness


In this season of hope, I think of how victims of DV live with both hopefulness and hopelessness. No one is more hopeful than a victim of abuse. It’s one of the main reasons victims stay, believing that their partner will change at any moment and everything will be okay. We have to think that way because our perception is that there is no way out of the relationship. Since he controls the relationship, we know that only he has the power to change things. 
It’s interesting that both hope and hopelessness can co-exist within us. In that twilight zone juncture, pondering “do I stay or do I leave,” these two emotions become all consuming. If we leave, hope keeps us questioning and doubting our decision. Having been taught not to trust our own judgement feeds into that dilemma. “But he can be so wonderful.” “If I hadn’t [insert partner’s favorite reason why you ruined things] everything would be okay.” Though we understand that our partner will always find fault with us, we continue to hope that we can be better, good enough. And, we hope that we can find the magic solution to heal/fix/cure our partner. When we face the fact that we cannot change anyone but ourselves, hopelessness overwhelms us.
Our partners promise to change. They cry, plead, and beg us to stay or return. If that doesn’t work, they pour on the guilt. They needs us, we’re taking their children from them, causing them to lose their job, ruining their reputations. (Notice nothing’s said about how they’ve destroyed our lives.) If that doesn’t work, it’s on to threats. They’ll kill themselves, us, the children, our families. All the time ramping up the pressure on us to stay or return. Worn and exhausted hopelessness sets in.
Some partners say that they hate what they are doing to us. That indicates that they know what they are doing is wrong and should not be repeated. Anyone who knows what they are doing can stop doing it -- if they really want to.
We beg God to change our partner. Since God has given mankind choice, God does not change anyone without his or her consent and cooperation, he or she has to do the work. That means an abuser has to take steps to stop the behavior. The first step -- go into batterer’s treatment. Second step -- do the work and complete the program. Third step -- do whatever is needed to stay on the right track. Any effort less than that means there will be no change.
Another thing we struggle with in this twilight zone, is that all the effort we’ve put into the relationship will be lost if we leave. “Wonder if he does change?” “Someone else will reap the benefits of my work and I’ll have to start over with someone else.” If he hasn’t gone into treatment serious about changing, he’s not going to change. His behavior isn’t about who we are, it’s about who they are. The victims are interchangeable. 
This is the season of hope. I know it can be hard to face the holidays when you're alone, recovering from abuse. Everything around you can remind you of lost dreams and hopes. Everything seems to reek of love and family closeness, sending you into a tailspin of hopelessness and depression. Suddenly you’re remembering the good times and discounting the bad ones. This is when you need to hold strong. If you haven’t made a list of what you love about him and what you’d change, now’s the time. Write down the truth of how you’ve been treated. If you stay or return all those bad behaviors will continue.
To get to a better life you will have to be uncomfortable for a time, just for a time. Let me assure you that you can have hope -- hope that your future will hold a better life for you and your children. The path is not easy, but hang in there. This Christmas celebrate how far you’ve come. Do your best to focus on the blessings in your life. Try to concentrate only on today and trust that the future will take care of itself. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, meet the challenges of each day and you will walk out of the darkness. All of us who have been there are standing with you, holding you in prayer. 
May the grace of this season touch your heart and peace surround you with it’s comforting and joyous glow. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Why Couldn't He Love Me?


This was the most difficult question I struggled with after I left my partner. Why couldn’t he love me? What was so awful about me? 
It took a long time for me to understand and accept the answer -- He couldn’t love me because he doesn’t love anyone, not even himself. There was nothing I could do to change that.
Does the remark about him not loving himself raise sympathy in you for the abuser? Can you see through his bravado facade that he really has low self-esteem? Does it make you think-- if someone loved him enough, he would change? Yeah, I thought that, too. I wanted to be his savior. Standing beside him, healing his wounded heart. Then he would love me for ever and ever. Being loved that way was my goal. I believed you had to earn someone’s love. By caring for his every need, I thought, in return, he would care for mine.
That’s not how it works. Our partners tell us how they were misunderstood, mis-treated and wounded in their lives. Our nurturing hearts kick in and we are willing to sacrifice ourselves to save them. This is a hook abusers use to draw us into the relationship and cause us to focus on their needs, letting go of our own. It’s a game for them. A way to make us believe we could earn their love. In truth, love is given freely -- no catches, conditions, or jumping through hoops required.
If I ask myself, “What’s so awful about me that he couldn’t love me?” I’m making myself the problem (easy to believe because he told me everything was my fault.) However, If I am the problem, then I think I have some control. I can fix things. If I fix things he will love me forever and ever. Once again I am trying to earn his love. As you and I know, we will never earn our partner’s love. That’s part of the game. Holding the carrot out in front of us and moving it every time we think we are within reaching distance.
Our partners’ inability to love us is not about us at all, it’s about them. I always felt that there were pieces of the puzzle missing in my partner -- compassion, empathy,  genuine concern for others. These weren’t there. Being overly empathic myself (to the point that I was willing to be anyone’s doormat, and suffer for another’s happiness to be loved - how unhealthy is that?) it was hard to fathom that others didn’t feel the same. Loving, caring, trusting came so easily to me that I couldn’t imagine that some people don’t reciprocate. They don’t. Really. I wouldn’t kid you on this.
As far as feeling that our partners don’t love themselves, let me say this, they may lack self-love but they do believe that they are entitled to have a woman in their life who takes care of them - all their needs, wants and wishes. Reciprocity is not on their radar screen. It never crosses their mind that we have needs and wants of our own, dreams we’d like to fulfill. Even if they claim to support us in our self-development, they usually find a way to sabotage our efforts. Making it too difficult to pursue our passion. Telling us that we failed because we are stupid and should give up.
I was raised with the adage, “You can draw more flies with honey than vinegar.” When you think about it, it’s a no-brainer. Yelling at someone makes them feel bad. It also makes them not like you very much. Constant yelling or physical abuse is not going to make anyone happily love and care for you. It will only breed resentment and hatred. How can abusers not get that? Maybe because they have no intention of giving. We know that in the cycle of abuse, when they have to say they are sorry and won’t [hit, yell, destroy our things] again, they eventually make us pay for having to “grovel” so we won’t leave them. Maintaing power to them means they withhold from us that which we desire most. They may give us “things,” but we will never get their love and devotion. So if they don’t choose to build a relationship based on kindness and genuine love and concern, all they have left is to build one based on power and violence. Love never enters the picture.
Isn’t that sad. They could have had everything they wanted: a partner who loved and cherished them, willing to go the extra mile for them, and sexually turned on. Instead, they chose to be a dictator. I’ll never understand why some people make that choice.
So, now that we are out of our relationships, let’s not concentrate on why they couldn't love us, but how grateful we are for those in our lives that do. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Power of Telling Our Story


The end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month is here. Wish that also meant the end of DV. 
I’m tired from the busyness of this month. Worn down because this month more than any other I live with the past, retelling my story many times. Anyone who’s been there knows that memories churn up the old stressful, painful feelings. I really don’t mind sharing my story because it means educating others so they may become empowered and reach out for help if they are in violent relationships. Also, by speaking out listeners learn how to help friends who are living with abuse.
As I spoke to one group of professional women, I noticed many heads bobbing in understanding as I shared my story. Afterwards, several women came up to me and said, “Your story is my story.” Another attendee, stopped me to say, “Look around.” Her hand swept the air to indicate the many small groups of women engaged in conversation. “They’re all talking about what happened to them,” she said. “Sharing their own stories of domestic abuse.”  I felt awed and humbled. Knowing I can make a difference in women's lives is why I continue to speak out.
If DV is going to end, it will be because we:
    • Tell our stories.
    • Teach our children, friends and community about DV.
    • Reach out to one another if we think DV is a part of her life.
    • Demand that we be treated with respect.
    • Raise our sons and daughters with men who treat women with respect.
    • Vote/Elect more women to higher offices in this country.
    • Demand change. 
We can’t wait for someone to make these changes for us, we have to go out and make it happen.
Below are links to only a few of the organizations where you can make a difference. I recommend you check out these and others you find on the internet or from talking with friends. You’ll want to read the mission statement, know who is funding the organization, and how that money is spent. Then get involved by giving your time, vote, or financial support to one or more whose beliefs and goals are compatible with your own. 
http://www.ncdbw.org/ (National Clearinghouse for Defense of Battered Women)
Don’t let the end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month mean you stop thinking about it. Violence against women is here to stay as long as we do nothing to change it.

Monday, October 10, 2011


October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The media reports that the number of cases of abuse is dropping. If you ask those working in the shelters they’ll tell you it’s not. Perhaps the number of deaths due to DV has dropped, for now, but the shelter’s waiting lists are growing, as well as the number of calls to crisis lines. We have good programs in place for those who seek help and dedicated people who work tirelessly to help victims rebuild their lives. Thank God for advocates.
Sometime - no - often, the amount of violence occurring feels overwhelming. I can blame the abuse on the fact that too many of us aren’t brought up in a home or house of worship that teaches kindness and healthy communication skills. I can say that the business world with it’s “dog eat dog” “swim with the sharks” “get them before they get you” attitude teaches lording power over others. And don’t get me started on the messages our kids get from the media and cultural beliefs regarding men and women’s roles. But pointing the finger isn’t going to solve anything. Neither is throwing up our hands in exasperation. 
We can put all our effort into helping after the fact, but until we, as Stephen Covey says in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, hack at the root of the problem, we can’t change anything. A key component to ending violence is educating our kids. Teaching them what healthy relationships look like as well as red flags in relationships. It would be lovely if all parents knew how to raise healthy, kindhearted and self-confident children. I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. We know that children who have been raised believing that they are worthless and stupid can be turned around - and deserve to be turned around. One loving adult who shows a child that he or she has gifts and a passion that will lead him or her to success can make a difference. In this busy world, where we are all living under stress, it’s hard to take the time to nurture another. But, it’s up to each one of us if we want to change things.
Along with our children, we need to educate society. Let’s face it, deep-seated systematic oppression of women continues even after the feminist movement’s attempt to eradicate it. Also, male privilege is so ingrained in our culture that it’s not even on our radar screen. For an example just look at the commercials on TV.  Their messages have clear gender rolls. It’s up to us, in whatever our walk in life may be, to become sensitive to this issue and work for change by speaking out as well as learn how to reach out to someone we suspect may need help.
We need to stop asking the question “Why does she stay?” and instead ask “Why does [the abuser] do that?” Place the blame where it belongs, on the offender. There are many excellent batterers treatment programs around the country. Getting an abuser there is the problem. And even if we do, will he or she embrace the help and change? We can’t make that decision for the offender. As long as abusing others to get what the offended wants works, why should he or she change? So, it seems to me that we have to find a way to make abusing others undeniably abhorrent to society and not worth the price the offender will pay. 
We have to get serious about ending family violence. Off the top of my head, I can think a few needs:
  1. Society needs to view the offender as the one at fault/stop blaming the victim.
  2. We need to pay attention to those around us and if we suspect abuse, reach out to the victim.
  3. Children need to be educated about dating/family violence and healthy relationships.
  4. Children need to be mentored by an supportive adult who validates their passion in life and helps them develop healthy self-esteem.
  5. Shelters need volunteers.
  6. Shelters need financial support.
  7. Consequences for violence needs to be more severe.
  8. Abusers need incentive to go into treatment and change.
  9. Laws need to be changed to protect victims and children.
  10. Court systems need to re-look at how they handle these cases, require more in-depth investigation, family care and protection.
How to do these thing? Ask those who work in the thick of it for more suggestions. The important thing is that each one of us gets involved in some way. Doing what we can, making a difference where we are able. Can you mentor a child? Volunteer at a shelter? Work with others to change the laws? You don’t have to do it all. Just pick one and take a stand against domestic violence.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Real-life Forgiveness


I don’t know who first came up with linking forgive and forget together, but whoever it was, was wrong. We don’t forget. It’s impossible to forget. We have brains that store millions of bits of information every day.  Trauma makes a deep, lasting impression in our memories and physical bodies. We know that people who were traumatized as small children, can recall the minute details of that trauma later in life. We are only just beginning to recognize and address the effects of trauma on our soldiers. No. We don’t forget. If we could forget, it would mean we would lose an important lesson meant to protect us in future encounters. We remember for an reason. 
So, let’s throw out the guilt about not “forgetting” what was done to us and look at real-life forgiveness. 
In his book, Forgiveness is a Choice, Robert Enright, PhD, says forgiveness happens when you let go of the desire to take revenge and no longer wish evil on the one who harmed you. That frees you from carrying the anger and resentment that colors your life. You don’t even have to tell the one who harmed you that you forgive them. (Let’s face it, in many cases they wouldn’t care or it’s better if you stay away from that person and not give any indication that they can worm their way back into your life.)
I heard Dr. Enright speak on the subject a year or so after my divorce, when I was wallowing in guilt over not forgiving my ex. Enright said something that struck me-  forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same. I could forgive and not put myself back into the situation! I always thought that if you forgave, you had to return to the relationship and pretend the offense never happened (that forget piece.) Returning meant I opened myself up to the possibility that it could happen again (those of us who experienced abuse know it does.) Having lived the cycle of abuse, it was good to hear that forgiveness doesn’t require reconciliation.  Also, he went on to say that it doesn’t condone, excuse, or minimize bad behavior. It does, however, state that what the offender did was wrong and that it should not be repeated. (Wow! I wanted to stand up and cheer.) Furthermore, we can forgive and still seek justice through the legal system, requiring an offender to face the consequences of his (or her) actions. (Yea, Dr. Enright!)
Forgiveness is a gift of grace, meaning that the offender doesn’t deserve our forgiveness, but never-the-less, it’s offered. 
In his book, Enright makes it clear that the process of forgiving can take some time. The depth of the hurt and the length of the time over which we were injured determines how long it will be. Those offended get to decide when the time is right and need not feel guilty. Saying we forgive before we are ready would be a lie. We would end up harboring resentment. That’s not true forgiveness.
By processing at our own speed, we are not holding the infraction over the offender’s head or throwing it up at him (or her.) Many of us heard from our partners, “You have to forgive me.” Offenders try to make us feel guilty because we are hurt and angry at their behavior and not ready to forgive.  They may try to pound us over the head with Bible verses about forgiving, insisting that we forgive instantly or we aren’t Christians. They shout, “It’s over. I said I was sorry. Get over it.” This is how those who have wronged us try to turn the tables to make us feel guilty and them the victims.  Someone who’s truly sorry will give you the space and time to work through the pain. He or she will also take steps to atone for the bad behavior.
In Women Who Run With the Wolves, Carissa Pinkola Estes talks about forgiveness not coming in one sitting, but in percentages. Usually, we think forgiveness is a 100 percent or nothing deal. Pinkola Estes says it has layers. You may only be 55 percent forgiving and working on the remainder. If you are at 10 percent, you may not be ready to forgive, but open to considering it. The point is, if you are willing to move toward forgiveness you are taking steps in the right direction. Cut yourself some slack. Trust that the process will move at it own pace. 
“You are not bad if you do not forgive easily. You are not a saint if you do. Each to her own, and all in due time.” Pinkola Estes
“Forgiveness is free; trust must be earned.” Robert D. Enright, PhD
You can download my interview with Dr. Enright by going to www.hazelden.org/bookstore. Search for my book But He’ll Change and click on a copy. Scroll down the page to the .pdf link for Interviews with experts. This is a free download.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Filling Your Space

I’m reading Circle of Stones by Judith Duerk. She asks how your life might be different if you’d had a circle of wise women to help you see and learn who you are. Women who would nurture and encourage you throughout your life, showing you what being a woman is about. 
What a gift that would be.
This is what I think the wise women would tell us -- Wether we believe in God or evolution, we are each an integral part of this universe. We have a designated space carved out by God or, if you choose, an evolutionary link needed in this world. If we didn’t exist, some things on this planet would be different. 
Yes, there is a specific place in this world for you and me, just because we exist.
Reading this book, I realized that I spent a lot of my life curled up in the heel of my space, instead of standing up and filling it. Maybe you, too, have felt powerless, inadequate and undeserving.
Many of us were raised to be someone else's vision for us. Some of us had families who had no idea how to love and raise a child. Some of us were battered verbally and/or physically and isolated from the ones who would have nurtured and encouraged us. We were humiliated, degraded and threatened. Taught that we weren’t worth loving. 
If you were like me, you tried to earn your partner’s love by being whoever and whatever your partner wanted you to be. You tried to be the perfect wife, mother, housekeeper but always fell short in the eyes of your partner. You gave of yourself to the point you lost your true self and felt empty. You went numb.
Things may have come to the point for you, like it did for me. You just tried to stay out of the line of fire. You backed down, and curled into a tight ball, hiding in the corner of your space, convinced you had no power to change things and there was no way out. 
How would your life be different if you had been encouraged and affirmed as you became the person you were meant to be? If the wise women had told you that your life’s journey has provided you with knowledge, gifts and talents that are unique to you. And that, each moment in this life, you are taking in more knowledge that will move you farther along the path you are meant to walk. You’re Acquiring abilities you need in order to do the next thing in your life’s work. Knowing this, could you then rise up and fill your space with confidence? How would it feel?
And suppose they told you that you could heal that small frightened child within by giving her all the love and nurturing she didn’t receive. You can visualize yourself as a little girl, take her into your arms, and look into her eyes. Tell her, “I’m sorry about what happened in your life. You deserved better than you received. You are a sacred human being and will make a difference in this world. I love you.”
How would your life be different if you let yourself grieve the past, feeling the pain until it dissipates? It will, with time. If you like, you can ask a trusted friend to sit with you during this exercise (not to try to fix you, but to acknowledge the hurt,) hold you and assure you that you deserved better.  Then you can move on knowing that you are here for a purpose. You deserve good things in your life.
If you have no idea what your life’s purpose is, it doesn’t matter. You will fulfill your purpose if you stand, fill your space, and open your heart to your life’s lessons and opportunities.
How would it feel?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

It’s Independence Day, though I haven’t thought about it this way in years, it’s the day I broke free from my abuser. 
Freedom. Is there anything more precious than freedom to those who don’t have it?
Freedom from the pain of living with someone who batters you with words and/or fists. Freedom from walking on eggshells every moment of every day. Freedom from trying to explain away his horrible behavior. Freedom from believing that everything that’s wrong is your fault. Freedom from the fear that this might be your last day on this earth. Freedom from waking up and wishing it had been.
Freedom. The word brings me to my knees with gratitude.

Friday, June 17, 2011

I Don't Make Good Decisions

Continuing the series on beliefs that we have to deal with when we leave an abuser -- 
 “I don’t make good decisions.”
A victim lives with a partner who teaches her that she is incompetent. While he may encourage, even insist, she make decisions, he’s really setting her up so he can destroy her self-esteem. Any choice she makes will be wrong and her partner will berate her for hours, pointing out how stupid she is. She becomes terrified of making even the simplest decision.
After leaving him, she still carries with her the terror of the ramifications of making a wrong choice. Now, faced with the many life-changing decisions (safety for herself and children, TROs, divorce, child custody, children’s emotional well-being, lawyers, judges, living accommodations, and many more) she feels paralyzed. Meanwhile, her partner pressures her to return to him, using mind games. He professes his love and expresses his deep concern for her ability to make it on her own. This is meant to keep her off balance and reinforce her feeling of incompetence.
Whether a victim goes to a shelter or not, she can still use the services of an advocate trained to help women who are faced with major life decisions. (If there is no shelter in your area, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for assistance: 800-799-7233) A shelter advocate lays out the choices and helps a victim think through each. Advocates don’t pressure or make any decisions for the victim, but empowers her as she develops a safety plan, walks through the court system, plans a budget, finds a home and many other needs. As a victim moves through the process she begins to realize she is competent.
Another decision-type issue we deal with is the feeling of not knowing what we want or like. We’d focused only on our partner’s wants and likes for such a very long time, ours fell away. I had to rediscover what I enjoyed doing, eating, seeing. A strange side to this issue was that since I was so used to not doing things I enjoyed, after I left I needed prompting to do things. It took a while for me to be spontaneous and decide to go to a movie or out to lunch. 
After I left, I’d hesitate to buy clothing. I didn’t know what to buy because I’d lived with a strict criteria on what I was allowed to wear. Also, money had been an issue. A few years after my divorce, while shopping with a friend, I was drooling over an outfit. “Buy it,” she said. “It’s really a little more than I want to spend right now.” I told her. She looked me in the eye and said. “If not now, when?” She was right. We deserve things that make us feel happy. So budgeting in a little more for something special, on occasion, is a lovely gift we give ourselves.
My final note about decisions: It’s easy to look at choices in an all-or-nothing manner. Often there is more than one right choice. And even if I we make a “wrong” choice or one that didn’t turn out as we’d hoped, we can change it. It’s not the end of the world. I like Thomas Edison’s reply to the guy who asked Edison about all his failures as he invented the lightbulb -- Edison said, “I haven’t failed. I just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” 
Everything in a controlling relationship is so heavy, we forget that it’s not necessarily a big deal to make a mistake. We need to lighten up on ourselves and keep moving forward.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I Can't Make it on My Own

 One of the biggest false beliefs that held me in my relationship for far too long was: 
On my own, I can’t make it in the outside world.
When we leave the relationship, we are thrown into a world we are not prepared to handle. We’ve lived under our partner’s rules, expectations, and boundaries. Thinking for ourselves or making decisions wasn't allowed. Also, he’s painted the outside world as his co-conspirator. Due to the Stockholm syndrome and brainwashing we believe that no one will listen to us or believe our word over his.   
It’s hard for us to trust that there are people who will listen to and believe us. Many of us had to hit bottom and feel we had no place else to go. Empty and numb we had no choice but to tell our story to someone. Thank God, there are people who are eager to help, www.ndvh.org, www.ncadv.org, our family, shelter personnel, therapists and others.
The affirmation and support we receive from others can help us to not only trust others, but to trust ourselves again. With renewed awareness, we learn to listen and act on our inner authentic voice, instead of the voice in our head that’s driven by fear. As we trust our own wisdom, our self-esteem starts to grow. We don’t beat ourselves up over decisions that don’t turn out the way we’d hoped, but learn from them. We develop tools to determine who fits as a friend and who must go, and walk away from people who are negative or non-supportive. (No more people pleasing or substituting their beliefs for our own.) We make clear statements to the offender, saying we choose to end all contact. If he persists, we consider him a stalker and take legal action (get a protection order, communicate with the police, document contact attempts, save threatening voice mail messages, and letters and if need, prosecute him.) 
If we can’t walk away from the offenders (i.e. they’re family or the father of our children), we take care of ourselves by (obtaining protection orders if needed) limiting our time with them. Often it’s easier to drop off/pick up children through a third party. We set clear rules -- conversations are limited to child related issues only, any disparaging remarks end the conversation, immediately. Soon we can identify the games our ex or others play, allowing us to stand apart and watch without being caught up in it or taking it personally.  What they do or say is not about us, but about who they are.
Many of us left everything behind, grateful to get out with our life and our kids. Rebuilding our life is no small feat. It’s overwhelming. I found that if I concentrated on what I can do today to take one more step forward, I could control the anxiety. Writing in a journal about my pain, anger and frustration helped, too. (Later I could look back and see how far I’d grown.) Joining a support group and therapy was crucial to my recovery. Prayer has always been a part of my life, it strengthened and comforted me.
I hated doing the work, but did it anyway. One step at a time. When I caught myself looking for an easy solution, I’d stop. There is no easy solution. We hadn’t had control over our lives for so long that it feels uncomfortable and frightening to take command. Finding someone to take control and responsibility again can be appealing. The fear and loneliness can also be so overwhelming that we might consider returning to our abusers. To quell these urges, I wrote a list of what I liked about my partner and what I’d change. That was enough to remind me why returning to him was not a good idea. 
It’s also not a good idea to jump into a new relationship before we’ve cleaned up the crime scene on our spirits. Those relationships usually blow up in our faces and only add to our bruised and bloodied souls. Not to mention, wreck havoc on another person’s life, or the lives of our children should they become attached to this person.
It’s hard work, but worth it. One of the most important lessons I learned was that I could take care of myself and my kids. I didn’t need anyone, but I wanted someone to share my life with. When I believed that I could trust myself to deal with whatever came my way (and not crumble up, die and blow away in the wind if it didn’t work out), I was able to risk opening my heart to love. And love came.
The bottom line is that we have to trust ourselves before we can trust others. We’ll talk more about this.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Slogging Through the Healing Process

If it’s going to be, it’s up to me. I hate that saying. But, it’s true. People who love us can help, but it’s our job to change our lives for the better. 
When we leave a violent relationship, the terror of how our partner will react shrouds our life and colors our future. Safety for ourselves and children takes center stage. Meanwhile, we struggle with where to live, finding a job (one that will pay enough to support ourselves and children) and explaining to the kids why we left. These are just a few of the many issues that leaves us feel confused and unsettled. 
We may also wrestle with the Stockholm syndrome. Like kidnapped victims, a woman living with domestic abuse over a period of time often begins to side with her captor. It’s a survival mechanism. She quickly learns what triggers his violence and how to avoid those triggers to remain safe. If she can just behave “right,” everything will be okay. Small acts of kindness on his part, are a welcome oasis in her terrifying world.  As a result, her reasoning becomes skewed and she feels he, in a sense, is her protector as well as the object of her fear.  He holds the power over her life and death. 
During that time, our partners have imprinted false beliefs, rules and demands designed to keep us off balance and vigilant to their every need. Through constant brainwashing, we come to believe we are as incompetent and stupid as our partners say. How can we survive without them? They’ve also set themselves up to be the center of our worlds. Our job has been to care for their every need. It’s not surprising that when we leave, many of us still feel responsible to care for them. I felt guilty every time I cooked dinner, believing that I should send a meal to my ex. I didn’t do it. I knew that doing so would say to him that there was a chance I’d return. The relationship was over, it seemed more compassionate to hold the line than to give him false hope.
 One of the biggest struggles for victims, is to replace the distorted thinking with healthy, “normal” thinking. In support groups, seminars, and one on one, women said -- “I don’t know what normal thinking is anymore.” That’s why I wrote But He’ll Change. I, too, had wondered that same thing.
In the next few entries of my blog, let’s talk about those thoughts that jerk us around and how we can change them.  

Monday, April 18, 2011

How Did I Get Into This Mess?

One of the biggest questions I struggled with when I left my abuser was: How did I get into this mess? I continually berated myself for being so stupid that I ended up in an abusive relationship. I voiced this to a very wise friend. She replied, “Suppose he came to pick you up for your first date, and when you opened the door he punched you in the face. Would you have gone out with him?” My response was in the ballpark of “HELL, NO! I’d call the police and have him arrested.” The point is, If an abuser treated us at the beginning of the relationship like he did at the end there would have been no relationship. 
An abuser knows if he wants to snare you, he must act and sound like a decent man. He becomes the romantic, thoughtful, caring, funny, seemingly honest, warm guy you’d hoped to find. There is no reason for you to suspect that he’s not who he appears to be, after all, you’re being honest about who you are. Yet, he’s hidden behind a facade. You think he’s interested to hear about your life. While, you feel flattered, he’s collects data that he will later use to manipulate you. He learns about your vulnerabilities, hopes and dreams. Later he will attack you in these very tender places to destroy your self-esteem. He asks questions about your opinions. You feel, Wow, this guy actually cares what I think. But, he’s planning how to bend your will to his. While you thrill at the thought that he’s finds you so attractive he can’t keep his hands off of you, he’s pushing you into a sexual relationship to hook you emotionally.
It’s no surprise, that victims come out of the relationship with huge trust issues.
We spend a lot of time beating ourselves up over something we were not responsible for. We did the right thing. We went into the relationship with an open heart, fell in love and trusted him. Isn’t that what we should do? Trust is part of the foundation of a healthy relationship (love, respect and communication are others.) The fault in the failed relationship sits squarely on the shoulders of the one who broke that trust. He misrepresented himself. He lied.
So, how do you know if you have a good man or not? Here are my thoughts. An abuser:
  • Rushes the victim into a relationship.  He talks marriage, kids and starts planing the future too soon in the relationship. He may have his whole life mapped out, and the victim is, to him, the missing piece, expected to fit into HIS world. In Healthy relationships, partners take the needed time to get to know one another, and move at a comfortable pace for both people. There is no fear that if you don’t commit now the relationship is over.
  • Doesn’t take “no” for an answer. He pouts, coerces, cajoles, accusing you of not caring for him, guilting you into yielding to his wishes. You may hear, “If you loved me you would/wouldn’t (insert activity here).” He may threaten to leave you if he doesn’t get his way. In Healthy relationships, partners respect each other’s feelings and needs. No, means no.
  • Has a sense of entitlement. He may have a definite idea of gender roles in society, with the male role being superior to the female’s. He is often passionate about issues and has definite likes and dislikes. You may find yourself thinking, It’s more important to him than to me so I’ll just go along (or give in.) In Heathy relationships, partners do not require one party to always yield to the other’s wishes. Each partner has an equal say in decisions. Differences of opinion are negotiated and respected wether an agreement is reached or not.
  • Monopolizes the victim’s time. He insists on always being together and is offended if you want time alone, with your friends or family members. He criticizes your friends and family, often insisting you stop seeing them, or makes it difficult for you to see them, isolating you. In Healthy relationships, partners give each other time together, and time to pursue individual interests or spend with friends. Also, they spend time with each other’s friends and family. Each partner maintains their own life. Those lives overlap (nether is absorbed into the other) into a life together.
For more information on this topic, I recommend Lundy Bancoft’s book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the minds of angry and controlling men. It was an eye opener for me. 


Friday, April 8, 2011

Was It Really Abuse?

After leaving a violent relationship, I wanted to put it all behind me and move out into the world as if the abuse never happened. That’s a luxury victims of domestic violence aren’t allowed. We are left with too many scars and bruises that must heal before we can move on to a healthy relationship with ourself or others. 
Determined to avoid another violent relationship, I sought answers to the nagging questions  that colored my thinking. What was so awful about me that he couldn’t love me?  How did I get sucked into this relationship? Was this really abuse? Why do I feel I have to return to him? Will anyone ever love me? What does healthy thinking sound like?
This entry is the first of a series addressing those questions. 
Was It Really Abuse?
Until I went into therapy, I thought that hitting, punching, kicking, beating, and rape were the signs of abuse. I learned that abuse is more than physical attacks. It also includes verbal assaults, constant criticism, humiliation, mind games, control of finances, attacks on one’s faith, and more.
My partner started hitting me shortly after we were married. When he broke my eardrum with a blow to my head, I told him that if he continued to hit me, I would leave.  He accused me of not loving him. I felt terrible, but something inside me kept me from retracting my ultimatum. 
After that incident, the verbal abuse quickly escalated. His angry tirades scared me into compliance. He stopped hitting me but I was terrified that he would. When I’d hear about a women being battered by her partner, I’d think, “What I live with isn’t so bad. At least he stopped hitting me.” 
Through treatment I learned that what my partner did, was just as damaging as physical abuse. 
 To gain control, an abuser creates chaos to keep his victim’s attention on making him happy to assure peace in the home. He uses specific tools. Like making trivial demands.  Strict rules regarding everything from how to fold his clothing, stack canned goods in the cabinet, to insisting she wash the dishes only by hand, causing more work, less free time. She feels pressure to keep everything “perfect,” as defined by him. He makes rules that change at his whim. He expects the victim to know the rules have changed without being told. A controlling partner often limits the victim’s access to finances and provides less money to run the household then is needed, giving the abuser more excuses to berate the victim, claiming she is inept at handling money.
An abuser often makes it clear who is in control by refusing to help his victim. Teaching her that she cannot depend on him to watch her back. Even in an emergency, she cannot trust that he will be there for her. He may choose to let her struggle and suffer. 
An abuser plays mind games -- hiding his victim’s personal items. He tells her she did or said something she hadn’t, to make her think she’s going crazy. When she calls him on it, he twists her words and takes the discussion into a different direction, putting her on the defensive. He sets her up to fail. He teaches her that she cannot trust herself. 
He creates a world to ensure that he holds the power in the relationship and she feels helpless. Understanding this, I realized that my partner actions were not about who he claimed I was -- an inept, stupid, worthless woman -- but about who he was, an insecure man trying to feel important at my expense. Knowing this set me free from the labels he forced on me.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Holidays and Loneliness

Valentine’s day has come and gone. The talk on my Facebook page and in our groups has been about the yearning for ex-partners even though they were abusive. I’m not a therapist but having been in an violent relationship, I understand. Most women realize that they are actually pining for the relationship they wished they’d had, not the man who abused them.
There’s nothing like a romantic or family holiday to make loneliness swell to overwhelming. And the b**** is, we know that if we return to him, the same old stuff will happen. If anything, we’ve learned about the cycle of abuse. The great honeymoon period, when he’s Mr. Wonderful and makes all kinds of promises designed to hook us back into the relationship. The tension period will always follow. He will begin act surly and demanding (making us pay for his having to grovel to get us back) until it escalates into verbal or physical battering. We know this cycle will repeat itself, and the severity of the abuse will escalate with every incident. Too often resulting in death for the victim.
When holidays come, the memories of the good times visit havoc on us. It’s hard to hold firm. That’s why it takes an average of 7 attempts to leave an abuser. How do you hold on?
I found it helped to have a friend I could call any time of the day or night. She’d meet me for coffee and she’d listen as I talked out my feelings. If I didn’t come around and realize that it was not in my best interest to go back, she’d gently remind me.
I had another revelation that helped me through that time and might help you. Most all of us had a toy, blanket, something that we dragged around with us as a child. (Mine was a stuffed dog.) We couldn’t sleep without it tucked under our arm. We carried it most everywhere we went. If it was lost or misplaced we’d get hysterical, afraid that our precious toy was gone forever. 
Where is your toy today? Thrown away or tucked in a keepsake box? The point is, we no longer need it to sleep or keep us company because we’ve matured beyond that level. Let me assure you that the same thing will happen with this relationship. You will transcend this time and move on to a better life. One that fills you with joy. 
Will you have another relationship? That’s very possible. But for now, love and cherish yourself as you heal. Surround yourself with people who truly care about you. Know that when your anxious inner voice says, “no one else will ever love me.” It’s a lie that was planted by someone who thought that if he got you to believe that, you wouldn’t leave and find the happiness you deserve. 
Smile, you’ve just moved yourself up on the People Who Deserve Happiness List.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Celebrating What We Do Right

It’s easy to get so excited about what the new year can hold that we conger up big plans. We are going to change every aspect of our life that we have felt frustrated about for the last 10 years. “I will get up an hour early every day to do vigorous exercise, stop eating sweets, meditate daily and lose 25 pounds.” Now, at three weeks into the new year, we’ve reached the point when all those resolutions are overwhelming and impossible to hold on to because “real life” runs alongside them. We slide down the slope to despair and self-loathing, setting the tone of our year to failure. 
What I have learned is that making  grandiose resolutions puts me under constant pressure because I’m not “perfect.” I took on too many changes, leaving me stressed out, riddled with guilt, and running a constant “I’ve blown it so I might as well give up -- I’m a loser anyway” tirade through my head. 
I’ve found success with this resolution: This year I will hang on to the good things I am already doing for myself. 
If you choose to share this resolution with me, I believe this will be a year of little victories for you and me. Taking care of ourselves is something we’ll celebrate. When we take a walk, or eat a healthy, well-balanced meal, we’ll think about how good we feel and how we’ve honored our bodies. Things as simple as a soak in a hot bath, sleeping, and reading something inspiring are celebrated. When the rhythm of life takes us to a hectic place where emergencies take precedent, we’ll do our best, remain guilt-free, and celebrate the next healthy thing we do for ourselves. 
By focusing on the healthy things going on in our lives, we’ll be more encouraged to take that one step closer to better self-care. Since I've adopted this resolution, I’ve found myself doing more good things for me. (It’s like parents who praise their child when s/he is being good soon discover the child will repeat that behavior more often.) During the year, I’d hear a healthy tip and think “I could add that one thing to my life.” 
For me, and I hope for you, it will feel a lot less like work, and will show steady progress toward living a more robust life. Celebrate your successes with me this year. What did you do to honor your body and spirit today?