When I’m introduced to somebody new, as in, “This is Jaime, she works in Domestic Violence,” I shudder a little bit.
When I have to deliver my elevator pitch, I often feel I’m employing these words in spite of myself. I dislike using the term Domestic Violence because it has become a pairing of words that elicits a deeply conditioned set of beliefs. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. My two words of preference are intimate terrorism. I refuse to define it. It is too broad, too diverse in its expression to be defined. I can only describe it, and I can really only do that with feelings.
That kind of reminds me of something else
that’s near impossible to define:
Why do you fall in love?
Have you ever been asked that question? How would you answer it? I’ve thought about it. I can produce a litany of data for you, but I will never be satisfied with my answer. Data has no capacity to sufficiently explain the chemistry between two people. If it were all about job descriptions and CVs, I never would have ended up with the prince that I married.
Love is more irrational than logical. Providing a reason for falling in love is unreasonable. I bet you can relate. So while we have this in common, I’m going to ask you to stay connected with me. Feel me standing beside you. Now I’m hooking arms with you and together, let’s walk. Now that we’re moving together, you have my permission to ask:
How could somebody like YOU get into an abusive relationship?
OK, stop. We have to walk backwards now, until we run back into that question we started with.
That’s where we begin. I fell in love. Unreasonably, illogically in love, just like what everybody else does. But then that somebody turned critical, controlling, mean, and finally, abusive. It was the most painful, confusing, crazy-making experience ever. And I’m confident I will never be that confused and made to feel that crazy again. That is, unless I’m kidnapped (again) or otherwise held hostage in a terrorist situation (again).
Can you still relate? I really hope you can’t, and that you never can. But what if I asked you,
Have you ever felt berated by the person who says they love you?
Have you ever felt like expressing your authentic self, with all of your imperfection and panache, would make you vulnerable to attack by your partner?
Have you ever had to tiptoe or walk on eggshells because you don’t want to “set off” an argument with this person?
Have you ever manipulated a situation or the truth to get your way in a relationship?
I just noticed that we are standing still now. These are kind of startling things to look at. They are heavy, uncomfortable questions. Come on, let’s keep walking.
I continue. I believe we are back in a space where we can relate to each other again. Because since that abusive relationship, I’ve been both the recipient and the perpetrator on all of these accounts. I watch it happening in my friends’ relationships in front of me. The people we’re closest to are often the most vulnerable to our dark sides. We let them see our inner animals as if this would be a privilege of intimacy. But not all of the time. Of course not all of the time, or we wouldn’t stick together. There is also the loving, the sharing and the making up that has the power to heal those wounds almost instantly.
I believe we are relating to each other now. To some extent I believe that we are all wounded beings, some much more than others with just as much variance in how much healing we’ve done. In former and/or current relationships, we’ve dealt with deceit, dishonesty, infidelity, and we carry on. But please, I don’t want to make comparisons and turn this into a war story survivor contest. Then we will be separated again, and I like to keep my arm hooked with yours. I think the separation is what feeds the misunderstanding and the judgment.
This is the dynamic: sweet, sour, hot, lukewarm, dark, euphoric, grounded…we bought the ticket to ride the roller-coaster and we accept the twists. Because you love that person. For me, that’s what happened. I got on the ride, and it wasn’t til I was hoisted in mid-air that I was able to see that my ride was being operated by that scary one-toothed maniac.
I believe that now you are in a better position to understand what an abusive relationship can feel like, but bear in mind that there are an infinite degree of shades.
and then there is Domestic Violence
I struggle with using the words Domestic Violence for many reasons. But most of all, I dislike the way it exposes how conditioned we all are. When I say Domestic Violence to you, I’ve already lost my ability to communicate freely because I am not talking with you, it’s my conditioning talking to your conditioning. I watch this all of the time when people respond to that introduction: OH…that’s good…I mean, that’s not good…I mean…that’s important work…
I assure you. I am just as uncomfortable as you are right now.
Even after experiencing it myself, I am still brainwashed to associate the words Domestic Violence with that image of a woman huddled in a corner, of broken skin and purple bruises. I’ve been brainwashed in a way that does not serve the cause.
Broken skin and purple bruises are horrible, they are shameful. But they are measurable. I could look at the handprints on my arms and watch them change color and fade over time, and this time lapse was the most concrete and easy part of the dynamic to understand. On the other hand, it’s been over 16 years since that remarkably short relationship ended and I still dream about this person “getting better.” Certain songs can still trigger nausea. How many men and women carry these internal injuries? How many have had the opportunity to name them as such and trace back their origins?
There is intimate terrorism that can and should be corrected within relationships. Then there is the intimate terrorism that must be fled: where one person exerts complete power and control over their partner. The dynamics are throughly documented and life-threatening. We know it happens to at least 1 in 4 women in the United States and jumps to 1 in 3 women globally. Recent research in LGBTQ populations finds that there is a higher frequency of males perpetrating and experiencing intimate partner violence. Women’s violence against men? Give it a google and see what you come up with. Very little is known.
We can sit for a while if you want to, but if it’s up to me, I would rather we continued walking, arm-in-arm. Instead of tempting the risk to sink down in one place, let’s continue moving through this, because this is heavy stuff now.
no more shock and awe. awareness is about connection & movement
I don’t get caught up in asking why people get into abusive relationships. I’m concerned with the level of awareness there is to identify behaviors that amount to intimate terrorism, whether it be the perpetrator, the recipient or both. I care about people having the awareness and resources to safely get OUT of abuse and remain protected.
I have a particular sensitivity to particular conflicts between two people that I will never allow to be turned off completely. I will always do something, though that something can never be decided except on a case-by-case basis.
Here are some experiences that contributed to this:
Being abused in a public setting and nobody intervened.
Being kidnapped, trapped in speeding car, passing other cars on the freeway, looking across the lane as we flew passed another car, trying to connect with the drivers, asking for help through my eyes. Feeling totally powerless.
Feeling that the public is generally estranged from the problem.
Struggling to make sense after I had fled the relationship. Not understanding how I got into the situation. For me, reading the statistics worked, but not until after I had been through the violence. So it went backwards from experiencing to analysis through the numbers.
Reading other women’s stories and volunteering in the shelter as an intake, seeing the blueprint.
Ultimately, wanting to teach that blueprint to a public audience to prevent other people from experiencing it. Or helping people identify it for themselves if/when they are already in it, doing it or receiving it, and both.
When I began doing awareness-raising, I promised myself I wouldn’t do powerpoint presentations or make brochures. I’m not saying that I think these tools are useless. I’m saying that they are not my tools. I wanted to show people what the internal bruises FELT like. I looked for ways to make the awareness-raising feel personal, not statistical. The guerilla theater approach worked because it elicited feelings and experience-based connection with what intimate terrorism looks like, sounds like and feels like to be around.
So I first went about it creating situations that would elicit those feelings that many of us can relate to: being berated and berating our partner, feeling like less than a human, being restricted from feeling like you can be who you are because those very personal expressions of who you are–are subject to attack. By your partner. How many people could connect to that?
That was a limited technique that could not be safely replicated outside of a college campus. Even then, we had to tightly organize and coordinate with campus security and ensure we had sufficient undercover advocates to surround and de-escalate the demonstrations. It was effective but brutal. It was eye-opening, but carried a great risk of disconnecting people and shutting them down.
That was almost 15 years ago. There have been more Spectacles. These days, I’m most concerned with doing two things: connection and movement.
If we’re still walking arm-in-arm right now, I’ll know we’ve done something significant.
Mortified of cubicles. Passionate about applying non-conventional approaches and new perspectives to enduring problems. Volunteering veteran and internship-aholic. Mosaicist who loves to create new designs out of broken and obsolete things. Dating violence survivor. Healing arts practitioner. Brings 16 years of working to increase awareness and understanding around the domestic violence epidemic. www.shehugger.org