Why don’t you leave?

“Why don’t you leave?” Is the number one question people ask domestic violence victims when the truth is it isn’t that easy.

There’s housing to sustain.

There’s bills to pay.

There’s children to care for.

There’s employment to obtain.

There’s furniture to buy.

There’s food to provide.

There’s no food banks that provide laundry soap.

He’s told her he’ll ruin her life.

He’s told her he’ll get custody of the kids.

He’s told her he’ll call child protective services.

He threatens to abuse the children.

He’s told her he’ll tell her family things. Maybe they’ll be true, maybe not.

He’s told her he’ll harass her family.

He knows where her family lives and works.

He knows where she works.

He and she have mutual friends.

He’s told her he’ll sexually assault her.

He’s told her she’ll never be safe if she does.

He’s told her he’ll find her.

He’s told her he’ll torture her.

He’s told her he’ll kill her.

He’s told her they’ll never find her body.

She has no means of supporting herself.

She has no work history.

She has a job, but it doesn’t make enough.

She has a disability and needs him to help care for her.

She needs him for medical insurance.

She needs to use the car and it’s his.

She doesn’t want to be homeless.

She’s scared to be labeled a victim.

She’s afraid of being judged.

She knows he won’t honor a no contact order.

She knows he doesn’t care about being arrested.

She knows he has access to guns.

She knows he’s tracking her already.

She knows he’s capable of killing her.

She doesn’t want to make their friends choose sides.

She doesn’t want the kids to suffer.

She wants the kids to have a father in their lives.

She’ll have to admit what’s happened.

Her friends won’t understand.

She’s not aware of services.

She doesn’t know what resources exist.

She has no support system.

She’s pushed away her friends.

She’s scared to call law enforcement.

She’s scared to tell law enforcement when they do come.

She’s scared of retaliation.

She wants to make the marriage work.

She wants to maintain ties to her church and he goes there.

Her religion says the male should be dominant.

She doesn’t believe in divorce.

She’ll be sad.

She loves him.

The criminal justice system is flawed and won’t hold him accountable.

Law enforcement doesn’t always arrest immediately.

There’s a 10-15 day window between a violation of a no contact order and the hearing.

It’s a small community.

Everyone will know.

There’s nowhere that can help.

There’s not enough resources.

There’s shame in admitting victimization.

It’s not fair for her to have to change.

Batterer education classes don’t work.

Substance abuse treatment doesn’t fix the problem.

Criminal charges don’t stop abuse.

Mental health treatment doesn’t stop abuse.

Counseling doesn’t stop abuse.

Threats don’t have to sound scary to be scary.

A look can terrify.

It’s a huge decision.

It’ll change everything.

It’s not easy.

There are so many more reasons. It’s not our place to judge. It’s our job to uplift, support, listen, love, trust, and accept. We can offer our concerns. We can offer to help. We can offer our fears about her staying. We can be her person.

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A Pro-choice Blog

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I’m pro-choice. I don’t believe in abortion for the sake of killing babies, and I can’t imagine anyone does. I believe in giving women a choice in whether or not to continue a pregnancy.

I sometimes support women who are considering abortion. I help them weigh the options by openly discussing the pros and cons of each choice. I offer feedback and an objective perspective to help them in making this difficult decision. I watch them agonize over this choice, I’ve never seen a woman who doesn’t struggle with this. Sometimes this ends in helping them access abortion services.

I don’t think many people understand the weight of this decision. Many women remember this choice for years or decades after making it. Some wonder what their child would have been like. Some experience a deep sense of grief and depression. Some even celebrate due dates as birthdays or anniversaries to cope with the loss. Some turn to alcohol or drugs. Please know, these desperate women who choose abortion are not “using it as birth control”. I’m not sure this is a decision someone takes lightly.

I read this article a few days ago:

Rivers of Babylon

It is a heartbreaking story of a woman who had a late term abortion due to health concerns/quality of life/viability of the baby. I cried. I cried so hard to read her words. I can’t imagine having a baby inside you, and then there’s nothing. I can’t imagine the hurt, the anger, the guilt, the brokenness these women experience. I can’t imagine how it feels to hear someone say they made the wrong choice. They made the choice that was right for them at the time. I don’t understand judging someone for making that choice when I know exactly how hard it probably was.

Recently I had a woman come to me. She was pregnant. She told me “My boyfriend will kill me if he finds out. I have no other choice.” I believed her, the man was incredibly violent. We talked about adoption, we talked about giving the baby to family, we talked about relocating and keeping the baby, and so many more options. In the end, she decided abortion was the right, but agonizing choice.

She contacted the clinic and started the process. I went with her to her doctor’s appointment to confirm her pregnancy. I saw the look of defeat when her doctor congratulated her, knowing her choice was already made. I saw the ultrasound, the tiny little tic tac that was growing inside her. She was 6 weeks along. “The baby looks healthy.” the doctor told her. She sobbed in my car on the way home. This wasn’t what she wanted.

She made her appointment at the clinic and asked me to drive her. I knew she’d be emotional. I knew this was the hardest choice she’s ever made.  It was important to her that I was there, so I went.

The clinic was an old, run down building. It didn’t look like much. Out front there were men with signs. When we went in, a man with a body camera strapped to his chest asked to talk to us.  When we refused to talk, he screamed at us “They’re killing babies in there! They’re killing innocent children in there!” I thought to myself that he’ll never know what this choice is like, he can’t get pregnant.

The wait in the lobby was forever long.  She filled out paperwork. It asked “How are you feeling about your choice?” Anxious. Relieved. Conflicted. “How sure are you about this decision?” Sure. After an hour we went into a tiny room where a woman did an ultrasound. She showed us the baby. She said it wasn’t even big enough to be seen with the human eye at this point. The doctor explained the procedure. The look on my client’s eyes was fear, sadness,  and resolve. I knew this was hard for her.

While the doctor performed the procedure I held her hand. I rubbed her arm and forehead and reminded her to breathe. At times I felt like I was reminding myself too. It was chaos, fear and a bumble of activity in a tiny room. It was blood, sweat and tears. It was mental and physical pain. It was doctors, advocates and interns. It was crowded. It was personal, vulnerable, and exposing.

Once it was over she was given after care instructions and we left. She stared out at the road as I drove her home. I saw a silent tear roll down her cheek and she quickly brushed it away.

In that moment I was once again reminded why I’m pro choice. I’m pro choice because she has the right to decide what happens to her body. When someone has had every other right stripped from them at some point in their life, they need the control for their own body. I’m not pro choice because I want to “kill babies”. It’s not called “pro baby killing” for a reason, it’s called choice because it’s her decision.

What I know is that if I was put into a situation where I was considering abortion, I’m not sure what I’d decide. If I chose to have an abortion, it would be truly heartbreaking for me. I’ve waited my entire life to be a mom, there’s nothing more in this world that I want.  But even if I didn’t choose abortion, I’d want the option to choose, and others deserve that right as well. And that is why I’m pro choice, and I will fight for every woman alive to have that choice.

Dear Abuser

Dear Abuser,

I don’t think you understand the pain and suffering you’ve caused your victim. I’m the one they tell about your hurtful ways with tears in their eyes. I’m the one they turn to for support and affirmation that they aren’t the one to blame. I’m the one that tells them it was your choice and not theirs.

Dear Abuser,

I don’t think you know how scared they are of you. You don’t see them trembling on the stand when they testify. I’m the one that’s there to support them. You don’t see them unable to sleep or eat because they are fearful for their safety. I’m the one they call in the middle of the night in panic. You don’t know the extra measures they take to keep themself and their children safe. You don’t know how many locks it takes to allow them to feel safe.

Dear Abuser,

You don’t understand all the changes your victim has made to move on. I’m the one who helps pack up their belongings and move to a different house or a different town. You don’t have to change your phone number 5 times ion 6 months because you’re being stalked and harassed. You don’t have to stay with a friend because you’re scared to be home alone. I’m the one they call when they need to go to a shelter to protect themself. I’m the one that safety plans with them. You don’t have to calculate the risk in a trip to the grocery store or to drive farther to another one just to keep safe.

Dear Abuser,

You can’t imagine loving someone but being scared of them at the same time. It’s a conflicting feeling that causes so much guilt. I’m the one that helps them process these feelings. I’m the one that they share that they want to go back because I’m the only person who understands. You don’t understand how much it hurts and the anguish it causes to feel this way.

Dear Abuser,

Your victim can’t fix you. You might think that they can help you change. You might think they can help you stay sober, or keep your job, or keep your housing, but you’re wrong. They can’t stop your actions. They can’t change who you are as much as they try or fix the trauma you’ve endured. They can’t cure your mental health issues. I’m the one that talks about making changes for their own benefit or focusing on themself.

Dear Abuser,

I don’t think you know what it’s like to live in poverty because of the loss of your partner. You don’t have to reach out to agencies for help only to be turned down. You don’t have to tell your landlord that you aren’t going to be able to pay the full amount and pray that he will accept a partial payment. I’m the one that helps them make a script for what to say. You won’t live in a house without electricity because the bill was too high. I’m the one that calls the power company with them. You don’t have to consider sleeping in your car, but worrying it won’t protect you from your hurtful partner. I’m the one that helps them access shelter. You don’t have to hear the frustration, fear and anxiety when they realize there’s no one else they can call. I’m the one that has to talk them through this tough time.

 

Dear Abuser,

It’s not fair that you don’t have to move back in with your parents or in with a friend. You don’t have to keep 3 kids plus yourself in one room. You don’t have to share a bed with your children. You don’t have to hear about how you “should have left earlier” or what kind of person you are for staying, or shames you for going back. I’m the one who tells them it’s not their fault. You don’t have to face this judgement.

Dear Abuser,

You don’t have to see them cry. You don’t have to feel the intense emotions of loving your partner who has hurt you and still wanting to be with them regardless of how bad things were. I’m the one that supports them and helps them weigh their options. I’m the one that hands them tissues when the tears fall. I’m the one that’s there when they go back, even when their own family abandons them because of you. You don’t have to feel ashamed of your relationship or the feelings you now feel. You don’t hold the guilt from the assaults.

Dear Abuser,

I don’t think you will ever take accountability for your actions and that’s what will hurt your victim the most. They will try to rationalize your behavior, but it will be confusing and frustrating that you told them you loved them and then hurt them. I’m the one that talks with them about what your motivation may have been or talks about reframing the blame. You aren’t required to admit you’ve done anything wrong. You don’t feel the weight of those actions.

Dear Abuser,

I don’t think you understand that the pain you caused can hurt your victim for years. The cut that you made on the soul of your victim may take years to heal or may never fully heal. I don’t think you understand how hard it is when a victim asks how long it will be before they are healed and I don’t have an answer. I’m the one that connects them to other victims to share their story which can help their healing. I don’t think you comprehend how you’ve hurt them or what the long lasting effects are. I don’t think you understand that it’s not just the victim who needs healing, but their children, friends and family.

Dear Abuser,

STOP. I don’t know if you can, but stop hurting your partners. Stop treating victims the way that you do. Stop minimizing your involvement, denying that you hurt your partner and blaming your victim. Stop making them feel crazy. Stop calling them names. Stop putting your children in the middle of this. Stop stalking, harassing and bothering them. Just stop. I would love for my job to not be necessary. I would love to have no clients. The world will be a better place if you stop.

But until you stop, I will be there. I will work as hard as I can with as many victims as I can until this ends.

Pink

via Daily Prompt: Pink

I was born pink. My cheeks were rosy, my little hands and feet were chubby and pink. I was dressed in pink dresses, bonnets and little pink shoes. I had pink bows in my hair, and pink everything. I was told “pink is a girl color”. I was told “Only girls can wear pink” or “only sissies wear pink (if they are male)”. I learned at a young age that anyone dressed in pink is by default a girl.

So I grew up loving the color pink. I had a pink bedroom I designed myself. I had pink shirts, pink pants, pink shoes, pink hair ties. In college I bought pink bedding and pink decorations for my dorm room. It never occurred to me that a color could have so much meaning.

As a feminist and a woman there’s many things that I’ve been told about pink which counteract what I learned when I was younger. I’ve been told that pink is a gender norm. Pink is a color for everyone, not only girls. The color pink is not associated with weakness or less power than any other color, it’s a color. Colors are not gendered, but are only in existence to color our world. Liking one color over another doesn’t make you anything, it only defines your likes and dislikes. Wearing pink isn’t a statement. Wearing or liking pink doesn’t determine your sexuality (aka “make you gay”) or your gender identity. Not everyone who identifies as female likes pink like I do, and that’s ok. Deep down I wonder if I really liked pink growing up or if I only liked it because of what I was told about it.

pink

 

Today the color pink means more. At the women’s rally back in January pink was the color of resistance and feminist support. Pink was the color of the hats that told outsiders what we believed in. Pink signified support in women’s sexual and reproductive health and support of Planned Parenthood.

The resistance wore pink.

Pink was powerful, dominating and loud. Pink wasn’t afraid to step on toes and fight for the rights of those who are vulnerable. Pink wasn’t just for women, it was for the LGBTQII+ community. Pink represented equality for those who can’t afford healthcare should the ACA be repealed. Pink stood for racial equality for those being oppressed. The strong wore pink. The noble, the proud and the brave wore pink. The humble, the meek and the neglected wore pink. Pink wasn’t a “girl” color anymore, it was the color of a movement.

Now my ideals about pink have changed. I’m eager to stand on the edge of revolution and wear my pink for all to see. I’m happy to support those who choose not to wear pink. I’m happy to hope for a world where all colors can live together and work as one to make changes for the better, one where pink is just a color that anyone is free to like.

 

Fireflies

I remember clearly being a child and catching fireflies in the summer.  While many other kids my age loved Christmas, I longed for fireflies and summer. There was nothing better to me than a summer evening. I loved running through the tall grass behind our house barefoot and chasing those flying green orbs. I loved collecting them in a jar. More than anything I loved letting them all fly out.

As an adult we lose this connection to nature. We no longer catch fireflies. We no longer run through the grass barefoot. We aren’t grounded in the Earth, but entangled in our work, friends, families and lives.  We no longer seek to catch anything elusive outside of a promotion or possessions. We don’t let go. We don’t disconnect from our modern lives.

Sometimes when I feel stressed or overwhelmed I go outside at dusk (summer is still my favorite). I take off my shoes (and socks if I’m wearing any) and I stand on the grass. I root my feet into the Earth to remember where I’m planted. I drop my shoulders and feel the energy pulling my hands towards the ground as my head floats towards the sky. I close my eyes and listen to the sounds all around me. I breathe. I feel the air around me, pulsating with energy and the last tiny speck of sunshine. I connect to nature and I remember all those memories of catching fireflies, running through the grass and laughing.

Nothing can calm my mind better than being in nature. No medication exists to do what grounding does for me. It’s not just the sensory experience for me. It’s feeling the energy inside me and feel it wash over me from the ground, to my feet, up my body and out the top of my head. It’s this connection to the world that keeps me sane. In this moment I know I’m alive. I’m grateful to be able to feel the grass, the breeze, hear the birds, smell petrichor in my nostrils. It brings my focus back to my purpose, it allows me to know why I’m here, and in this moment I find complete bliss.

Tonight as I opened my eyes, I saw fireflies. They floated on the soft, warm breeze of summer. They blinked between the green leaves on the maple tree in my back yard. I felt completely at peace. And as I watched the neighbor’s children laugh as they ran barefoot across the grass, I remembered what it feels like to be where they are, to feel that the future is a million miles away and that summer will last forever.

 

Addicts are People

Addicts are people. They are not trash to be thrown away. Please don’t talk about them like they are human refuse. There are plenty of people who use substances who are good, kind and decent people. There are many people who use due to the trauma they have experienced or because of their circumstances. Some are born into a life where drugs or alcohol is a part of their culture, where using is normalized. Maybe a person uses drugs to treat their mental health condition, or maybe just to escape from the reality of their life. Drug addiction happens to all ages, genders, colors, socioeconomic statuses, it can happen to literally anyone. There are many ways in which people start down the path of addiction, no two are the same, so don’t assume that because you know “one worthless drug addict” that everyone struggling with addiction is the same. That’s called overgeneralization and it’s not fair to do to any group of people.

Some addicts commit crimes. So do normal people. When you are someone with an addiction, some of your time is spent feeding that addiction. Many of your behaviors are focused on satisfying your need for the substance of your addiction. The normal cycle is use, come down, buy more. Sometimes in trying to get drugs, a person becomes desperate and uses whatever means they are able to in order to get what they want. Sometimes this results in crimes like robbery, check fraud, panhandling, prostitution, and, in extreme cases, murder. While I am not justifying any of these crimes, I’m telling you that there’s a reason these crimes are being committed and why someone fighting an addiction might see it as a means to an end. Once again, these can be desperate people. This is also why some people choose to make or sell drugs. It means that their own use costs less and they are able to even have an income on which to base their lifestyle if they sell enough. I once had someone tell me “I can make $3,000 cash in two days selling meth. Why should I ever work 40 hours a week to make $400 at the end of it and then wait another week or two to be paid?!”

Some addicts struggle with completing drug treatment, and some normal folks struggle with finishing EVERYTHING. Where there are drugs, there’s demand. Where there’s demand, there’s drugs. It’s an unending cycle. You can’t incarcerate people fast enough to stop it, and you can’t treat addicts quick enough to stop it. There’s no good cure for the drug addiction plaguing our country. Incarceration of addicts doesn’t cure them of their addiction, but then again, sometimes neither does treatment. There are some really good treatment centers out there, but they don’t have a 100% success rate. There are people who go to all the meetings they possibly can, have a sponsor, have a good social support system and who still relapse. Recovery isn’t perfect. There are really two ways out from addiction: death or successful treatment. One of those options doesn’t have a 100% success rate, the other does.

Some addicts have priorities which are not the same as yours (so you refer to them as “the wrong priorities”). Picture yourself living the life of an addict. You need to choose whether to buy food or drugs. To me this is probably one of the most difficult choices a person could possibly make, but many people think it’s easy. Most people don’t understand why addicts would choose drugs over food, rent, medical care or their children. Drug addiction is a sick and twisted thing and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It’s hard for someone struggling with addiction to hold down a job, especially if using leaves them unable to function properly. “Desperate times call for desperate measures”… as the saying goes, once an addict loses their job, the result is desperation to meet EVERY need, not just addiction.

Let’s not pretend for a minute that all addicts are breaking the law. Alcohol is legal. A person can drink themselves stupid as long as they don’t drive, be drunk in public, etc. There are very few laws related to drinking at home. Alcoholics are probably the most common addicts, and yet they are somehow viewed as “better” than people who use meth or heroin, probably mostly because they are not breaking the law. But alcoholics break the law all the time. There’s many people with violations due to drinking and driving. There’s many assaults, including domestic violence and sexual assault, which were escalated due to alcohol. So how is this type of addict somehow “less bad” as compared to a hard drug user?

Addicts are people.

They love, they live, they contribute to society. They play music. They create art. They work. They play. They have families. They have spouses and significant others. They own property. They rent. They care for others. They teach. They learn. They have skills. They are kind. They can sometimes see the best in others. They are smart, sometimes bordering on brilliant! They are resourceful, much more resourceful than I will ever be. But most of all they are someone’s family member or friend. They have people who care about them and love them.

So before you say something unkind about someone struggling with addiction, think about how you’d treat someone you love who was facing this struggle. Each of us contributes to this world, and there’s enough negativity in it already. Be kind.

 

Mother’s Day

It’s the week I dread most in the entire world. The week that rubs motherhood in my face and makes me feel utterly devastated every year. I’m happy for those who are mothers, but completely jealous. I try not to be bitter, and I apologize if sometimes it feels that way, but it’s hard for me.

You can tell me all day “your time will come” or “you’ll be a great mom” but it doesn’t help the pain. I’m grateful that my partner understands and when I tell him “It’s gonna be a hard week” he gets it. It’s gonna be a hard week, and every year it gets worse.

It’s hard to look at (what I view as) “the success” of others and feel failure in my own story. I know that this is an irrational thought and I shouldn’t believe it, but it has sunk so deeply into my soul that I’m worried if I never have kids, it will just break my heart to the point of being broken forever.

For those of you who don’t know, I had kids who called me mom before. When I was married, I had two sons. They called me mom and I knew them from when they were 2 and 3 until they were 9 an 10. These boys meant the world for me. It was my true crowning victory at the time. I know those of you with kids will understand the joy that having a child brings to your life, and this feeling (I’d imagine) was the same for me. I felt my life was complete and my family was whole. When he and I divorced in 2008, my whole world came crashing down. At first he told me he wanted to allow me to interact with the boys. He sent me letters they had written and I visited them a couple of times during the next year. Soon after, he got another woman pregnant and she harassed me into submission. I had to let the boys go. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I didn’t get to see them one last time, and I didn’t get to tell them why. It wasn’t ok for me to do that.

A couple of years later, I (very hesitantly) started dating another man with children, a ten year old boy and a three year old girl. After he and I had been dating 6 weeks or so, he wanted to introduce me to them. From the second I met them, I loved them. They were the kind of kids that just wrapped themselves around your heart and didn’t let go. For about a year I stayed at home with the kids, mostly the three year old while the boy was at school. I bonded with the kids, and once again I felt at peace with my life. But I wanted a child of my own, and the man I was dating didn’t want that, so eventually the relationship ended. Once again my heart was broken. He and the kids moved away, so I couldn’t stay in their lives at all even though my ex would have been ok with it. About once a year he sends me photos of the kids. While I’m grateful for this small, kind gesture, and I appreciate it more than he’d ever know, sometimes it still hurts. It reopens that deep wound and I feel the loss again.

Some people will make comments like “I know you’ll make such a good mom one day” or “you are so good with children”. They even say things like “your time is coming, it’ll happen”, but the more days that go by, the more those words hurt as well. I’m impatient and I would like that day to be here already. I’m not getting any younger, and I’m worried about my ability to get pregnant as I get older and become “high risk”. “You can take mine for a few hours and then you’ll never want kids again!” Really?! You think a few hours with your children will stop my desire when I’ve spent years with caring for both my own and other people’s children. I love naughty, challenging children. They are so undervalued. I’m as ready as I will be. I know there will be challenges, but I enjoy problem solving. I’m already exhausted many times, and I am eager to accept these sacrifices in the pursuit of my dreams.

What’s the worst is when they mention any of “my kids” like “you were so good with them, it’s just proof you’ll be such a good mom”… Ouch. It’s those words that cut me to my core and break my heart.

Yes, I am good with children. I have a degree in Early Childhood Education partnered with 12 years of experience in that field. I’ve always been good with children. I love their sense of creativity and wonder. I love their ever-exploring and questioning minds. I relate to all the questions they ask, it drives me to never stop learning.

You’re right, it may happen some day, but what if it never does? How will I accept that fact? How will I deal with that “failure”? What will motivate me to continue my life and feel successful? How many hours will I weep the day that I really know my window is gone. Yes, there’s always adoption, and I have always been open to that option. I’d love to become a mom to a child who needed a compassionate and safe caregiver. I wouldn’t mind an older child that others consider “damaged” or “traumatized”. I’ve done work with trauma survivors. I know it’s challenging, but I feel I would be understanding and possibly a good fit, depending on the child.

You are welcome to ask me to care for your children. If I’m able, I’m happy to do it. I won’t always be able to do it for free, but I’m also open to hanging out with you and having your children around. I don’t mind. I’m happy to give you a break from the stress of being a parent. I know you (and your partner maybe) still need time to yourself.

Finally, yes, I was an amazing mother to those kids (both sets) and I have every intention of being that kind of parent for my own kids, if and when that time comes. I still love those children with all of my heart. They are now going on 17 and 16, 16 and 10. As time speeds by I think about them and all the milestones they are experiencing. I try not to focus on the fact that I’m missing them, but rather that they are growing up so fast, and I’m glad they have fathers to raise them to the best of their abilities. Yes, sometimes I wish I was still a part of their lives, but I try to remember that I was a good mom to them, and that they loved me very much. I like to think they remember their time with me fondly or still may care about me, but I may never know it.

So I want to send my love and light to those that feel like me. I want to give you all hope and support. I know I’m not alone. I know there are others who have lost kids by divorce, death, termination of rights and alienation or many other ways. I want to let those of you who long to have children that you’re not alone. Those of you who have loved children and lost them, there are people who understand that pain, myself included. I want to encourage you to not listen when those irrational thoughts come creeping in if you want to be a mother. There are ways regardless of age, relationship status or income. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. You can choose to be patient, or you can take matters into your own hands, the choice is up to you. It’s your life. Do what you want with it and don’t worry about what others think. Sending you much love as you also struggle to celebrate Mother’s day. And please know that if you feel like you’ve been a mother in any capacity, this day is for you too.