Michelle's Front Page

I own it but it was not my fault

October 18th, 2010

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.

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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.

This entry was posted on Monday, October 18th, 2010 at 8:13 am and is filed under political. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

19 Responses to “I own it but it was not my fault”

  1. amy2boys Says:

    Michelle this is a wonderful post. To never judge or assume is the best advice anyone can ever take to heart, hard as it can be. You really honestly, just never know what is going on in a person’s life.

  2. Melany Says:

    Love this post. I also read your story – and think it’s so courageous and selfless of you to share it. You are a force to be reckoned with. ;) Our experiences all shape us and make us the people we are…and your little girls are so fortunate to have you – exactly as you are – as their mommy. You are all beautiful women who will do many MORE great things in your life, I’m certain. <3

  3. anymommy Says:

    Beautiful post. I loved your comment, but I love the full version here more. I’m so sorry you’ve experienced domestic violence first hand.

  4. Vanessa Says:

    Wow Michelle. I’m of equal measure feeling like I want to cry and be sick. I’m so sorry for what you lived through, but are such a strong and smart woman. Congrats on making a healthy and wonderful life for yourself and your family.

  5. Kim Says:

    Michelle – You’re right – I never knew your whole story. Pieces, yes….enough to know it was bad….just didn’t realize how bad.

    So glad you got out – so glad that you were able to move on and find love again. And now, look at your beautiful family – and your wonderful husband who adores you.

  6. Tracie Says:

    I found my way here from your post at VU. You are right, it wasn’t your fault. I’m glad you are finally at the place to believe that, not only for other survivors, but for yourself too!

    What an inspiring story about Alice. It really is all about the entire story when you are dealing with people. Little tidbits of their lives are not enough to really understand the whole person.

    (I often find myself commenting on a blog with a comment that could be it’s own post. I feel you on that one!)

  7. Cathy Says:

    what a beautifully written post. thank you for sharing your stories, both here and at VU. am now going to skim through a few of your pics of your beautiful girls and say a little prayer of thanks for them and for you. a force to be reckoned with indeed.

  8. Julie P Says:

    My respect for you as a mom, a woman and a fellow human being has grown. Thank-you for sharing your story.

  9. Regina Says:

    I loved this post. I read your story and am so in awe of you. What a terrible life you had and what a fantastic life you have now. You can give women hope and I’m so glad that you shared that very difficult part of yourself.

  10. Sonia in MO Says:

    Michelle, you are just awesome. And the amazing part is that by putting your story out there, and sharing your strength, you have no idea how many lives you may touch, or how your words will turn that light bulb on for a woman who may desperately need to come out of the dark. My hat is totally off to you, hon.

  11. Shannon Says:

    You’re right. You ARE an amazing strong woman, and a force to be reckoned with. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Laurie Mitchell Says:

    I am so saddened because it seemed this person took away the upbeat, bubbly, wonderful Michelle I know and took you into a pit and into a place where you couldn’t be you. I am so inspired that you got yourself out of such a terrible situation and so happy that you have found a man that you can be happy with and be the you you are supposed to be! Thanks for sharing your story. It will be an inspiration to many who read it and I am certain that your words will touch someone that has “lost herself” as a result of domestic violence. I know that your story will help at least one someone take the step to get “herself” back.

  13. Jennilea Says:

    … Not that I would now but … I never knew.

    Funny how that works, isn’t it? I have a story, too. And not that I was behind the desk but my step mom and sisters were TERRIBLY abused before coming into our lives. I wasn’t there for that, but I watched what it took to put all them together. We were advocates. And still . . .

    Older man meets unestablished girl. Older man has addictions and a fluid relationship with truth. That’s where my story starts.

    Thank you for sharing yours.

  14. Martha Says:

    Michelle thanks for opening up about your background. I had a similar story that didn’t end in marriage but escalated in a similar fashion. My guy threw me down on a sidewalk late at night outside my parents home where I still lived as a high school senior.

    I came to (in more than one way!) and my parents were standing over me at the door telling him to get gone, and that was the end of that thank god. (and my parents)

    I was lucky it happened early for me. Later I recognized the signs in a best friend and her fiance assaulted me after a late night out with her at the bars.

    I lost her as a friend, but still think about her and wonder if she survived. She isn’t on Facebook or anywhere else I can find…

    We the survivors are the lucky ones. The best we can do is offer encouragement to those who are threatened and speak out.

    Thanks for a great post Michelle.

  15. Skytimes Says:

    Over here from VU. Glad you got out of that situation and are safe now. I absolutely love this blogpost and the story of Alice. Hope she found peace.

    So so true: it can happen to anyone. I know of another survivor who’s a lawyer for women affected by dv. She worked the field many years before she met her abuser and stepped in the trap. Before I really “got it”, I would have insisted it could never happen to me. Yeah right… today I eat my words for I now better.

    Now I stop before I write a mini blog-post myself and just say: Thanks for sharing your story, brave lady.

  16. Rhonda Says:

    Wow, Michelle, what a story. You are every bit of the last line of that post. Thanks for being so brave to share it.

  17. My wife hates kids and kicks puppies - Fusioncube Says:

    [...] thing that she mentions in her blog post where she announces her story, is another story about a woman she helped back in her domestic violence advocacy days. It’s [...]

  18. Malia Says:

    I think that what touched me the most was that instead of rejecting the Bible altogether, which many understandably do, Alice instead made it work for her. She knew that the scriptures her husband hurled at her did not justify his behavior and that there was more to the Bible than just “dos and don’ts”. I love her passion for the words and tenacity of spirit that wouldn’t let an abuser rob her of what she believed.

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