Sunday, May 24, 2015

Dishes and Anger

Washing dishes. Soapy water induces an introspective state, and can help wash off worry, dream into the suds, flow with ideas, and work through life's puzzles. But this time, I became angry. I have been reading Lundy Bancroft's "Why Does He Do That?" and it made me angry. It made me angry to have this awareness of abuse*, to know about where I was abused* and silenced. It made me mad to learn that abuse* is a choice and rests on a deeply ingrained overblown sense of entitlement on the part of the abuser.*



I was angry for my daughters, and how in the world of men they are learning about abusers first hand, and blessedly quicker than I did. I was angry at how our culture inadvertently and sometimes deliberately supports abuse of women. I was angry at my own  confusion...about how the abusers I've had relationships with have had a "good" mask and somehow, in giving the benefit of the doubt, I wanted to believe that person was defined by their acts of good, and not their cruelty. But I came to the conclusion that cruelty and acts of relational destruction far outweigh a surprise gift, an attentive joke, a sincere conversation, or going out to eat. Those are just  ways for an abuser to avoid responsibility and to avoid having to acknowledge your humanity. I wondered why, when I'd received those gestures in the past, they made me so mad and in an "ah-ha" moment I realized it is because they were fake and their actions in no way made restitution or amends.
I was angry for my son, for most abusers are men, and an overwhelming percentage of them learn abuse from their fathers. I was angry at the prospect of a world that would allow him to abuse and have all these constructs and double standards in place to be able to blame the victim ("It's between both of them. She asked for it. She was too chatty/messy/gossipy/fat/worldly/etc. She exaggerates things. I can see why she would drive him crazy. They both contributed.Men are victims just as much as women {not statistically true, by the way}") I was reminded of the passage in Bancroft's book that told how this neutrality from onlookers is just as harmful to an abused woman as the abuse itself. Bancroft points out that people will oppose abuse in the abstract, but loyalty to family, even to family secrets and dysfunction, is strong. Denial is strong and binding, like metal link chains. And no one wants to believe a brother, son, friend, or trusted co-worker is an abuser. It is much easier to sweep it under the rug. I get it, I really do. It is very difficult to overcome these strong social forces.
And that makes me mad too. I have had trouble understanding why people would come to the side of an abuser and help him, instead of saying to the woman, "I see what he is doing to you and the kids and I don't agree with it. " Why is bad behavior so consistently excused?

"Acknowledging his abusiveness and speaking forcefully and honestly about how he has hurt her is indispensable to her recovery. It is the abuser's perspective that she is being mean to him by speaking bluntly about what he has done." (Bancroft, p. 287)

I thought of how one of the most powerful guiding forces within an abuser is this complete drive to avoid responsibility for their actions at all costs. I thought of how, since the majority of abusers are men, and they grow up being taught to be that way in their family, and then culture often doesn't hold them to personal responsibility, what kind of messages are we giving these men about their worth? Are we telling men they don't  have the capacity to fix their mistakes? That we have to culturally coddle their fragile egos when they mess up? That we must allow the attitudes of the entitled to go completely unchecked?
It made me want to show my son he is worth WAY more than that.
I had a metaphor for the end of a marriage as a car, where my partner gets out and slashes the tires, then blames me for the car being unable to go, and so he gets out and finds another car, and bills me for the repairs of the old car that HE damaged. In Lundy Bancroft's book, he gives this metaphor of abuse:
You live in a house with a beautiful old tree in its backyard. Your neighbor complains that the tree hangs over into his back yard. You offer to prune the offensive branches but he starts insisting that you cut down the entire tree. You calmly tell him this is your property and your tree and you will cut down what hangs over into his yard, but not the whole tree. Your neighbor starts to ferment and seethe and convince himself that you are wrong. One day, when he knows you will be out of town, he triumphantly cuts down the tree...the big, old, beautiful tree that shaded your yard now lies in a heap of stumps and leaves and branches. When you return, it is obvious who cut down the tree  and you are mortified by this senseless act. Your neighbor denies it but eventually is pressed to admit it was he who cut down the tree.
In this case, it is clear that someone destroyed property and restitution must be made. The man will have to answer to his neighbors as well, for they won't trust him. The man must make restitution financially, apologize to her and their neighbors, and take steps to restore her yard. She will never get back that beautiful tree. And he will not be able to come into her yard again.
I got mad that in cases of abuse, where a man can wreak havoc on a woman emotionally, physically, financially, and mentally, he will only rarely willingly admit he has participated in relational destruction; most of the time he will point the finger back at her, and therefore, excuses himself from personal responsibility.

There is certainly a lot on my mind regarding this topic of abuse and abusers. I recommended "Why Does He Do That?"to a friend and she read it too. In the book, Bancroft mentions how when he wrote the book, he did a search and review of college courses and he could not find one course on abuse. Perhaps types of abusers and abuse dynamics are taught in other parts of college courses, or as part of training for therapists. Yet judging by how difficult it is to find therapists who understand the dynamics of emotional abuse and Cluster B personalities, I would say this isn't necessarily so. I've been blamed by a therapist for someone else's abusive behavior and learned a hard lesson that not all therapists can recognize emotional abuse and couples therapists have the capacity to do more harm than good.  Luckily, I was able to process this incident with higher-level clinicians who confirmed that the attitudes of that therapist were indeed victim blaming. In my local support group for women and men who  have endured severe emotional abuse, we speak of how difficult it is to find good therapists who can guide healing from the trauma of abuse. My friend was so impacted by this book she said every woman and man should read it, and I have to concur.

As I mentioned, my own daughters are in the dating world. One of my daughters is learning through experience how to recognize abuse. Her situation was not dangerous and she has set good boundaries for bad behavior and she will talk to me about it, openly. It is so important to listen to and validate the experiences of  our daughters, indeed, of all women.
I search my mind constantly for what to do about this problem in our culture. It seems so large and overwhelming. You know, abuse is at the root of so many troubles. So many. It isn't a case of someone doesn't like someone else. It is rarely that simple. It is that someone has deliberately harmed another. It is someone mindlessly living out the system of abuse they have been taught in their family, refusing to give up their cushy attitudes of entitlement that allow them to shirk interpersonal responsibility (and gaining supporters for their cause), or trying to lift themselves up through demeaning others. Or all of those. Either way, it is destructive.
I know for me, I have done my homework (extensively) and can name the abuse and types of abuse  that I'm dealing with. But not everyone has that context and I still encounter a lot of victim blaming and neutrality(which is another way of adopting the abuser's perspective; neutrality supports abuse). I also encounter, in much greater proportion, a lot of validation and support. I am sure some people have gotten tired of hearing about my situation, yet most have shown me the greatest love and grace. I hope to give back for what I've been given.
One day, I think we will look back on emotional and other forms of abuse and our cultural support of the entitled and see it all as barbaric.
I end with this quote from Gertrude Stein that I am currently loving and identify with:

It is funny that men who are supposed to be scientific cannot get themselves to realise the basic principle of physics, that action and reaction are equal and opposite, that when you persecute people you always rouse them to be strong and stronger.
Gertrude Stein

*When I refer to abuse, I am not just referring to battering. That is one type of abuse. Abuse can be emotional, financial, sexual, or physical in nature. Many women who have been physically and emotionally abused report that emotional abuse is so much more damaging because it is harder to pinpoint. 

For further reading: https://www.facebook.com/notes/becka-nan-amos/abuser-profiles-from-why-does-he-do-that-by-lundy-bancroft/480862655302912



Sunday, May 3, 2015

Camping

We've been camping every year for 6 years now.
Even when I was married, I camped solo with kids. Our first trip, we knew nothing, and in many ways, we still don't! But really, what is there to know? Bring extra blankets ALWAYS. There's always Miguel's pizza. Spend lots of time fire-gazing and hike when you feel like it. Explore a creek. That's about it.
When Davis was younger, we started out at a campground that became "our" campground because it had:
1. a creek
2. trails with caves
3. a bathroom with showers
4. close proximity to the skylift and Natural Bridge
Since then, we've branched out. With Davis being six now, we are setting our sights on doing some back-country camping. No fires allowed and my picky eaters will have to learn to love trail mix rather than our typical "glamping" breakfast of eggs and, this might sound funny, but gluten-free waffles fried in butter. All of this is made possible by our trusty iron skillet.
Other things we are looking to do is some bouldering. Since the Gorge really only has a couple of places to boulder, we are going to have to slowly dive into top-rope climbing. I think it can happen!
This past weekend, other than a Derby party, we chose to forego Derby events and get out of town. We found a new favorite campground which was perfect except for the noise of traffic (how does one get so far away they can't SEE a road but it is so loud it interrupts sleep? And who are all these people traveling the backroads of Kentucky at 1 am?)
Here are some random pictures of our camping trips over the years. Mostly they are Cumberland Falls and various places at the Red River Gorge. I want to say in praise of camping, being in nature like that truly heals your soul. It is a church out there, just waiting for you to be humbled in the best, most beautiful way.  (my favorite picture is the one of Davis looking over my shoulder. He is so darned cute!)