Six-thirty came all too soon this morning, and with it, the reluctance to pull myself out of bed in order to spend 8 hours discussing domestic violence. Good morning! This is what it looks like when someone's kicked in the back by a cowboy boot! Exhibit B! Electric cord bruising! Exhibit C! Strangulation marks! Sexual trauma! Oh, the stifling, putrid smell of forensics in the morning...
As horrible as all of this sounds - and it is - it was so empowering to dedicate an entire day to identifying the exact resources we, as nurses, can offer to our patients, particularly through the ER. Equally astounding was the willingness of people in the class to share their own stories, from personal experience, from the experiences of patients they've served.
The truth is, we can't "fix it." Like alcoholics and those addicted to drugs, an abused person has to come to terms with their situation on their own time and deal with it according to their own schedule and will. The most difficult part of this process for those of us trying to "help" is dealing with our own judgment of what's going on - either behind the scenes or else right in front of us. We think she should leave him. We think he shouldn't be allowed to visit in the hospital. We want to protect her, to protect the kids, to press charges, to get him (or her, for that matter) the hell out of there, stat. Preferably in handcuffs.
But the "rehabilitation" system isn't designed for rehabilitation. Often, offenders come out of jail or prison even more abusive than they were going into the system. And the people we were trying to help wind up being victimized even further, if not through direct abuse, then by the mere thought or threat of it.
It brought a lot to the surface for me, personally. My father's verbal abuse when I was a teenager (for which we did later make amazing, genuine amends). The sexual abuse I survived, twice. The implications of both of those things on the formation of my own self esteem (or lack of) as a teen and young adult, the decisions I made that I now know were so directly linked to having been exposed to those experiences: moving out at age 16, being promiscuous and confusing sex with love as a teen, looking for approval and acceptance among male friends pretty much my entire life as a result of having been used and/or abused by males in the past, feeling judged and distrusted by female acquaintances - and most importantly, choosing to enter into and remain in abusive relationships that I wouldn't have tolerated if it were happening to, say, my best friend, or a family member. And not just once, but many times over. The "what if" mentality. The excuses we make up to pardon the people we do or did truly love because of their redeeming qualities, because of that one time he did or said that thing that struck so deeply and so lovingly in us. "It only happens when he's drinking." "It only happens when he's overworked." "It only happens when maybe I wasn't be as sensitive as I should or could have been." And then, just as difficult to deal with: the judgment we face by admitting our willingness to have "put up" with the abuse, by admitting shitty decisions we made as a result of having chosen (by whatever logic or lack of) to believe the bullshit. By forgiving those who have trespassed against us, to the shock and disgust of those who've possibly never lived through the experience themselves. That last one in itself can be a total mindfuck, and enough to keep quiet about our experiences.
Maybe he has a point. Maybe he's right. So-and-so said I was a ____. I've heard this before.... and that other guy said.... and they weren't all just boyfriends or would-be boyfriends. They were family members, they were teachers, they were cops.
If it walks like a duck/slut/doormat....
What a visceral and freeing feeling it was to realize I've come out of that cycle, if only out of sheer luck and half-consciousness. Holy shit! I don't put up with that crap anymore! Exhibit A: A restraining order - never filed, but filled out - on my microwave, just in case. Maybe it's my thirties. Maybe it's finally being sick enough of the drama to just walk away without feeding that stubborn part of me that wants to have the last word, or to somehow magically heal the person who's abusing me and/or themselves (because, more than likely, they were abused themselves, and yes, I have a soft spot for that). Maybe it's recognizing that there are people out there who can't or won't do the work for themselves and depend upon others' compassion to relieve them of their own insecurities - and finally being able to say when is when. Knowing my boundaries. If not for my own sake, then for my daughter's.
In any case, I'm grateful.
That said. If you or anyone you know is living in fear...
Sojourner Truth House: 414-933-2722
Milwaukee Women's Center: 414-671-6140
Task Force on Family Violence: 414-276-1911
Elder Abuse - Department on Aging: 414-289-6874
Alma Center (treatment for abusers): 414-265-0100
Hmong American Women's Association: 414-289-6874
Aurora Sexual Assault Treatment Center (for acute, current abuse): 414-219-5555
The Healing Center (for survivors of past or current abuse): 414-671-4325
Safe Mom Safe Baby (pregnancy/postpartum): 414-219-5909
Or, dial 211 for access to health information on any topic, including links to the above resources.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE
National Sexual Assault Hotline (RAINN [Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network]):
Live healthy, Milwaukee.