October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Every year, I talk about it a little. I provide some links. I tell a story or two from my days of working in shelters. I, sometimes, allude to my past. This year, I decided to tell my story. I was inspired about 6 months ago by a story I read and realized that while my story isn’t terribly dramatic it might give someone a little piece of understanding or comfort. It really can happen to anyone. It happened to me: a smart, educated, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ADVOCATE AND EDUCATOR. It can be slow and insidious. It can happen so slowly, so slyly that you don’t realize until it is too late. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone the whole story. I was too ashamed – I was supposed to know better. I spent years telling women it wasn’t their fault and I finally decided to believe my own words. To read my story, click here.
Often when I am typing a comment on someone’s post, I realize I’ve just written a mini blog post. It happened again this weekend. I was commenting on a lovely post by Stacey. She wrote about how knowing someone’s story can change how we view them and their actions. It is a cautionary tale of judging others because you often don’t know their story. It reminded me of something from my days at the shelter.
I spent the first and happiest chunk of my career working in domestic violence shelters in various capacities. When you work in an emotionally charged arena, you often develop a bit of gallows humor and can be a bit jaded – it is a defense mechanism. You have to walk a fine line between caring and taking care of yourself. People who are good at the work are able to walk that line. People who aren’t either care too much and burn out or quit caring enough and need to go work elsewhere.
Alice (not her real name, obviously) was in her 50′s when she came into my shelter one weekend. The shelter staff told me she was a little off. Alice carried around a notebook and wrote in it during her free time. She told us she was re-writing the bible. The staff all shared a private chuckle at that piece of information. Pssst…the new client is a little whack-a-doo…she says she is re-writing the bible. Who does that? Hehehe. The clinical staff casually discussed exploring if there was a mental health issue behind that behavior.
But then we really talked to her. Not just a casual “What are you writing Alice?” but a conversation. Alice shared that her husband used scripture from the bible to justify beating her. He would quote passages about the man being the head of the house and women submitting to the man in order to make her understand it was his right to beat her. He used something she held sacred to tear her apart physically and emotionally. He used her God against her. She wanted to re-write those bible scriptures in such a way that he (and other men) couldn’t take them out of context any more. She wanted to make the bible into the safe haven it had once been for her – an instrument for comfort and peace not violence and control. Suddenly, Alice seemed like the sanest person in the room. She saw a problem and was trying to fix it the only way she knew how. And I’ll never forget her.
It really is all about framing…all about stories. Everyone has one. And if we take a moment to find out the story of someone who seems odd or difficult or a little nutty, we might find that they are doing the best they can. Just like the rest of us.