I didn’t wake up one morning and decide to be an advocate; I just wanted to get the nightmares out of my head and find some peace. But sometimes when something has left such a profound mark on your soul, you don’t always make the decision. Some decisions are made for you by your heart, and you just have to go along with it, not because you have no choice, but because you can’t imagine any other life that would fulfill you more.
Being an advocate in the most basic sense of the word means that compassion and love define you and govern everything you do. It shows your character, your priorities, your motivation, and it spills your vulnerability in constant view of the public eye without regard to personal privacy. It requires you to connect with and stay connected to why you’re reaching out to help and empower those trapped in the darkness of abuse. Staying connected to trauma and lingering wounds from abuse is often painful, but sharing it, and sharing it openly, is imperative to help those still in abusive situations see that it isn’t their fault and, more importantly, that they aren’t alone. That sense of shame that moves us to hide behind a figurative fortress stems partially from our fear that we’re the only one who “got ourselves in this mess” and can only be worn down with the help of counseling and connecting with others who survived abuse and have since begun the tedious work of rebuilding their lives. It takes immense love and care for others to be moved to action when so many others let discomfort push them away. Compassion and love are words that imply action. It’s a deep care and genuine concern for others that runs so deep, it cannot be ignored. It will not fade. It will not disappear. Rather it grows, and it moves your heart and your life to be in the service of others. This is what I found happening to me.
I know it’s easier for you to look away and give a million excuses why you can’t stop abuse from happening. I know the temptation is there to just go on about the day and pretend you didn’t see anything different about the way your friend carries her/himself. I realize that it’s easier to choose impatience over their increasing disconnection from your life: the dwindling phone calls, texts, and emails. The excuses why they can’t go out even though they swore they wouldn’t cancel again. I see that it’s easier to brush off their distress as something that doesn’t concern you because they don’t jump up in the middle of the room and throw their heart and vulnerability at your feet and reveal to you that the person they love, the person who claims to love them, is hurting them. And sometimes I have seen just how much easier it is for you to tell them they had no right to be upset at the horrible things he/said had said to them because they’re “always taking things too far.”
I get it. Domestic violence is an uncomfortable topic. It requires facing, hearing, considering, and acknowledging some horrific things that happen to women and men every day on every street, in every town, in every county, in every state / providence, in every country in the world. I get it. You should find it quite discomforting, and I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t. However, does that urge to push away from it, build a wall, throw on the blinders change anything? Does the denial and ignorance make it easier to endure? Does it make it safer to live in the violence? Does it decrease or abolish abusive behaviors altogether? No. It perpetuates the violence and allows it to continue, to escalate. It impacts children, pets, your family and friends, co-workers, the healthcare, criminal justice, and legal systems. It breaks hearts, crushes dreams, and takes lives.
Our purpose first and foremost is to be a light for others who are still trapped in abuse so they can build up courage, find connections and resources, and leave the abuser and take back their lives. We reach back for those that so many in societies around the world seem to forget, to marginalize, and dehumanize, and we help by providing emotional support and give them a place they can break the silence holding them in the darkness in harm’s way. We help them overcome shame and share coping techniques and other advice that helped us move forward. We help them heal, and we don’t turn them away. We help them because we remember all too well how it was being in that nightmare, and even the thought of one more woman, man, or child losing their life to this heinous, deliberate crime is too much to carry.
Another purpose is to connect to survivors who are relatively fresh out of the abuse and help them figure out how they can move forward, find some semblance of stability, and begin to rebuild their lives. We listen to their stories, we hurt with them, in many cases cry with them, and grieve with them. When their confidence is running on empty, we they find themselves unsure, doubtful, lonely, confused, and angry, we talk them through it and help them see how far they have come. For those who endured some circumstances in their abuse that we may not be familiar with (whether it’s children/custody issues, alcohol/drug use, etc) we try to help get them connected to other survivors who endured similar things so they can better advise them the steps they should take. We share our own struggles and successes with them so they know everything they experience along their healing journey is normal and they aren’t crazy or broken or “doing something wrong.”
So many of us from varying backgrounds and experiences come together with an almost magnetic attraction, and we become friends first, then sisters and brothers. We are each other’s soft place to fall when everything else in the world becomes cold, cruel, and dark. Even those who may be distant from us geographically remain in our hearts, thoughts, and prayers. We feel each other’s pain and we relish in each other’s joy. No tear or smile goes unseen. No screaming, venting, rant or laugh goes unheard. And we always respond. We’re the friends that will be up for you all hours of the night because your world is falling apart and you need someone to help pick you back up, dust you off, and guide you until you can walk on your own. We’re the friends that you want to message as soon as something good happens, because you want to share that precious moment of joy with someone who has cared enough about your well-being that they move mountains to help you make things happen. We become a piece of each other’s heart, and when we lose one of us to violence, we feel the pain and the void that is left behind.
Those of you who have not experienced abuse, please know that I am joyful for you that have not found yourselves where we have. None of us would ever want you to live for one day in that torture. Not even an hour, minute, or second. However, statistically, 1 in 4 woman, 1 in 7 men, and 1 in 3 teens will experience some form of abuse in their lifetime. It’s urgent that you educate yourself on the signs of relationship violence and resources available to provide assistance and support for those being abused. You never know when it’s going to be a friend, a sibling, a parent, a cousin, a child. Or you.
This is another purpose that those of us who speak out about domestic violence have. You have the benefit of our hindsight, our nightmares, our stories, our struggles, and our successes. We don’t share them with you to complain. We don’t share them for attention. We don’t share them to make you uncomfortable, although that is a side effect. No human being can absorb trauma experiences without feeling any adverse emotions with it. It’s what you choose to do with that discomfort that can change everything.
During the course of the next month, there will be increased focus on domestic violence. Instead of turning away, please learn from our experiences. Hear what we have to say. We only want to help, because it is not worth one more life being lost.
Everyone deserves to live safe, happy, peaceful lives. But when you know someone whose life is being shattered by violence – whether you’re family, a friend, a co-worker, a member of their congregation, or a stranger – it IS your business. We all share in the responsibility of guarding and looking out for each other’s well-being and safety.