Four years ago I became aware of a local organization fighting against domestic violence called Samaritan House. I had survived my own traumas in an abusive relationship as many of you know, and so I accepted the invitation to an upcoming luncheon they were hosting to check things out. Up to this point in my story, I had told others about my abusive past and I had done some work on my healing but I was still coming to terms with the depths of the damage and attempting to reconnect the feelings and emotions was proving more difficult than I imagined. Surprise! Seven years of damaged stuffed down into a no-go box and shoved in the back corner of the mind with the strongest chains and locks only grow stronger and more powerful the longer it is not acknowledged.
I could speak of the truths, but I was not prepared to feel them.
So, I show up at this luncheon by the Women Against Violence with my normal coat of armor, I network and socialize before things started, I found my seat and we all began to eat. Suddenly as the room quieted, a 9-1-1 recording comes on overhead and my life changed. The call was a woman pretending to order a pizza in fear for her life, the emergency operator quickly picked up on the panic in her voice and was able to ask specific questions to learn that she was in imminent danger. The perpetrator, her husband. The man she said, “I do” too, the man who said “I love you” to her, was the man who caused her to fear for her life. The call ended and I was shaken to my core. The chains rattling that old box and the despair inside roaring louder and louder.
For the next ten minutes, we heard stories of the silent victims. Those whose voices were forever squelched at the hands of their partners, lovers, significant others. Their stories were told in the first person with alarming familiarity bringing a heaviness to the room and chills all over my body. As the dimmed lights came back up I felt eerily close to my own end. I felt like he was right there again, so close to me with a reminder of how lucky I was to be alive. The following stories were stories just like mine. Stories of sadness and despair, pain, and trauma, but also victorious survival. Women and men who suffered and then got out. Stories of healing and moving forward. All leaving me in a puddle and more aware of my calling than ever before.
I knew then and there that I had a voice and I had to use it.
I sat there with my own sorrow and trauma, pain and suffering, and I was alive. I made it out, I had a chance to not only heal and recover but to use my story to reach others just as these women had done for me. It was a calling I could not deny. How I would answer was unclear, I knew, however, that I had to. Fast forward to the next luncheon a year later and instead of sitting in the audience, I was the speaker. I was standing in front of the room and I was telling my story. It was overwhelming and exciting, scary and liberating. It made me stronger. You can read it here.
Confidence in moving forward comes while moving forward, not before.
I gained more of myself back in that time than I had in all of the healing I had done up to that point. I felt empowered, humbled, grateful. I also knew I still had a lot of work to do but I found that by sharing and helping others I found my own peace, grace, and a new understanding of overcoming. There is this awareness among victims of domestic violence, similar to members of any other group. It is an understanding though, without words, that says “I see you, I know, you are safe here with me.” My calling coming into focus, I knew I needed to reach others, I needed to speak for those who couldn’t, I needed to bring the unspeakable acts of control, abuse, manipulation, pain and pure evil to the table and share them as if it was as easy as talking about the latest celebrity gossip.
We owe it to victims to enable them, to give them a safe space to exist without judgment. A place where we do not ask the victim why they stayed, we ask the abuser why they abuse.
Each year I have attended this same luncheon and each year the same results. I cry for those who hurt, I shake my head in agreeance with the ability to overcome and stopping the cycle. I feel hopeful and empowered in the message and changing the times. But this year I noticed something else. Something I think is all too common in life but specifically and particularly bad in situations of domestic violence and abuse. I found myself listening to the speaker telling her story, recounting the grueling details of the attack that almost claimed her life at the hands of her husband. As I listened to her recount the events that forever scarred and disfigured her I felt like my story could not compare. I found myself invalidating my own pain and suffering because I was not left with any outward, physical scars. I was trying to compare my story to hers and minimize my own trauma. I was becoming everyone that ever tried to silence me. No, fuck that, I am going to extend myself some grace. I was falling victim again, feeling and hearing all of those voices slowly creep over my mouth and throat.
My throat! I was instantly snapped out of it remembering his hands wrapped around my neck, dangling in his grip, as he glared into my eyes which were pleading for my life. I remembered the fade into darkness and I remembered the words I tell everyone I speak to or work within domestic violence.
Pain is personal. Feeling, emotion, and experience cannot be weighed. Trauma is not comparable.
We all to often minimize our experience to make it tolerable, we compare to lessen the pain, but in reality, both of those acts only intensifies the suffering. By lessening what we went through we are betraying ourselves. And for what? Because it wasn’t as bad? Bad is bad is bad is bad. What happens to us is ours. There is no graph or chart that others can also exist on, only our own experiences. We all have our own baseline and our own highs and lows. I saw a quote recently that sums up my thoughts perfectly.
Saying someone can’t be sad because someone else may have it worse is just like saying someone can’t be happy because someone else might have it better.
How silly does that sound? It is like saying I cannot enjoy having a roof over my head in my quaint little condo because someone else lives in a mansion or that I cannot feel hungry because someone else has less on their plate. It makes no sense in those terms. Pain, experience, trauma, feeling, emotion… it is all personal. Stop comparing. Know that what you have experienced in a trauma is traumatic! Not because it is more or worse, just because it was effing awful! We can always have empathy, absolutely, it should not take away from your own journey though.
As always, if you or someone you know needs help, reach out. There are services all across the nation that are making a difference.
Also, I am starting my own coaching business and will be working with victims and helping them with the moving-forward part. More on that soon!
Sending you all out some love and hugs!