Thursday, August 25, 2011

Stumbling Forward

I posted a positive review of The Freedom Programme by Patricia Craven.  The Freedom Programme is a program for women in UK domestic violence shelters.  Ms. Craven has also published a highly effective book for domestic violence survivors called Living with the Dominator.  I posted the following review of this excellent book which I highly recommend here  For more information about the Freedom Programme, please click here. /

I have come to understand that recovery from a lifetime of emotional abuse will take a lot longer than I expected, and that’s okay.  I have been physically quite ill in the past two weeks.  I haven’t stopped coughing since I came back from the public health facility two weeks ago.  I am certain that I caught something from all the unhealthy, uninsured people there.  I have a deep and persistent cough, and I often shiver from the cold in the heat of the day.  Strangely I have no fever.  But I have continual constipation and stomach problems – and I have chronic fatigue as well.  My energy level varies from low to high to moderate to non-existent.  My appetite is diminished but still considerable.  I haven’t had the strength to work consistently although I work irregularly.  I lack the strength to cook and one clear sign that I don’t feel well is I haven’t done laundry in over two weeks, whereas I do laundry religiously every week when I’m feeling good. 

The wonderful people in this safe house offered to take me to the ER several times, but I refused to go to the ER because I got so sick from the public health facility.  If I caught the terrible cough from the public health facility, I worry that I could catch something worse from the ER.   Instead I am going to a private female physician.  I realize that one of the long-term consequences of being severely emotionally abused by those I relied upon to take care of me is a sense of learned helplessness.  Truthfully I have a hard time standing up for myself and taking care of myself.  I really hesitated for a long time before finally deciding to seek a private female physician because I have now seen first-hand the terrible cost of trying to save money by using the public health system.  I was sick for ten days before I chose to make an appointment with a private doctor, and then it took me 3 days to get an appointment. I decided finally that I’m worth investing in myself, and so its worthwhile for me to invest the money needed for a private physician.  The initial consultation costs $120 to $190, and follow-up visits cost me $80 each.  Spending this kind of money out of pocket when I have no income coming in is quite simply frightening.  But I don’t have a choice at this point, and I am grateful that I still have the resources to be able to provide for myself in this way. 

This female doctor is extremely popular.  I know because her staff is so pleasant –and so incredibly hard to reach on the phone.  I was actually warned that this doctor takes her time with her patients.  So she told me I might be waiting from 1 to 3 hours to see the doctor even with an appointment.  I am planning to bring my journal and a book to read to keep myself properly occupied in case of such a long wait.  Also this doctor, like my last one, instructed me to bring all my medicines to her in a plastic bag.  I prefer to see a woman because quite frankly the idea of a strange man looking at my private parts, even for legitimate medical purposes, is very uncomfortable for me.  Its easier to talk to a woman about female problems like period cramps too.  Tomorrow is my appointment, and then we’ll see from there.

I feel as though I have hit a major roadblock in my recovery from abuse.  I began to grow frustrated with myself when I realized that I have been living in freedom for almost two months, and yet I continue to struggle physically and emotionally on such a basic level.  I am still largely unable to sleep at night, and my stomach burns almost every night when I try to fall asleep.  I am continually constipated too.  I haven’t had the energy to even begin a job search or even put a resume together.  I haven’t been able to work yet on a consistent enough basis to look for a job.  I don’t think its fair to an employer to make a commitment to him / her that I will work say 3-4 hours a day if I don’t think I’m capable of keeping such a commitment at this point. 

But then I began reading about recovery from abuse and I realized that just because I have left my abusers behind physically does not mean that I have been able to overcome the emotional effects of their damaging cruelty upon me.  And then I became more forgiving and understanding toward myself.  For the most part I haven’t been well enough yet inside to begin processing and responding to individual memories of specific incidents of abuse, which is part of the intermediate stage of the recovery process from abuse. 

A Canadian-based web site called Heart2Heart has free download packets for both female and male survivors of abuse.  I highly encourage survivors of domestic violence to check it out here:  Although its target audience is survivors of domestic violence rather than child abuse, I have found it very helpful.  On the section called “After leaving,” it begins with this very useful warning: “Understand that leaving will not solve all your problems.”  In fact although I am extremely glad to have left my abusers behind, the recovery process has been much harder, slower, and more painful than I could ever have imagined.  I did not realize in a way just how badly damaged I was by the abuse until I finally left it behind.  I knew that true healing would not be remotely possible as long as I remained physically under my abusers’ control and thus subject to additional incidents of their cruelty.  But the healing process is very difficult, as I have discovered.

Heart2Heart offers this very useful piece of advice:
“The damage that has been done, and you aren't going to heal from it without considerable time and effort. And no, this isn't fair, but it is real. Enjoy your sense of freedom and safety, but remember that there is a lot of work and tough time in front of you. When those bad times come, you may be tempted to give up or look for an easy way out instead of sticking to your guns. Be prepared for your discouragement and you're less likely to be blown away by it.”

I couldn’t agree more with this assessment.  I know that the damage has been done because my parents’ and grandmother’s emotional abuse has utterly destroyed my interest in marriage and motherhood.  I am unable to imagine dating, marriage, and motherhood as being a safe process for myself as a Jewish woman.  And the damage to my self-esteem and self-confidence has been much deeper and more extreme than I had anticipated.  I suffered a grave loss of self-confidence caused by having internalized my abusers’ perceptions and beliefs about me.  The cruelty of my abusers was designed to break me in mind, body, and spirit, and unfortunately on some level it has succeeded.  And in addition my abusers managed to completely destroy my sense of self-worth as a human being. 

These survivors are also quite right that healing will take “considerable time and effort.”   I have spent two months concentrating full-time on my healing, and I know that I am only at the earliest stages of my healing process. I haven’t yet begun to scratch the surface of my healing, and the road so far has been rocky and difficult.  I like the way they tell you to “be prepared for your discouragement” because I wish I had read this when I first joined the free world.  I would have been less disappointed, frustrated, and upset if I had known in advance how difficult the journey to freedom would be.   

But I am so grateful to everyone for their support.  My friend Mike Isma, a wonderful Haitian-American classmate from graduate school, just messaged me on facebook to see how I was doing and to offer me his support and encouragement.   It means so much to me to know that I am not alone in my recovery process and that I have so much support –from the management here such as Julia, Gisel, Marie, and Ibis and from the residential staff of Beverly and Kristin and from my fellow residents such as C, R, and R’s daughters.

Today I spent some quality time with R’s youngest daughters, who are 5 and 6 years old.  I watched them patiently and joyfully as they began creating their own collages from stickers.  They were filled with a sense of imagination, adventure, curiosity, innocence, and joy.  They really enjoyed having an adult pay close attention to them and take them seriously.  R’s daughters created collages of stickers about the experience of being at the beach.  Unfortunately, I don’t think they have ever really experienced the joys of the beach first-hand, and R’s youngest daughter doesn’t know how to swim and doesn’t have the floating wings.  So actually the beach might be a dangerous place for her.  I was so happy to see this young girls playing so freely and it helped me to heal as usual to spend time with them.

One of the hardest things for me has been to accept the love and support I have been offered by Julia and Gisel in particular.  Why? Because I was programmed and conditioned by my abusers to believe that I was not worthy of love and respect and honor and to think that I deserved to be brutalized, terrorized, and abused.  It is hard for me to see myself as lovable, as worthy of love and support.  I struggle to believe that anyone could love me in fact, and maybe this is the hardest and most painful part of my recovery process.  I am going to try and let the love in, and to try to accept the love that Julia and Gisel have offered me.  I am frankly stunned that people are so kind to me at HOEF because I am used to being brutalized and repressed and abused and hurt.  It will take me a long time to feel safe inside enough for me to fully accept the love of others, but I sense that this is perhaps the most important and difficult component of my healing process.    

HOEF has changed its policy to open the shelter to male victims of domestic violence.  I applaud this change in policy because although men are much less likely than women to suffer domestic violence, unfortunately some straight men have been beaten and emotionally and sexually abused by their female partners.  And also some 25-33% of gay men are also in abusive relationships.  I am against abusing anyone, female or male, adult or child.  So it is possible we might have abused men and their children staying with us. 

I also know personally of at least one or two men who were abused by their female partners.  One of them was suffering emotional abuse from his girlfriend and didn’t even realize it.  I pointed out to him repeatedly that she was not treating him with the love and respect that he deserved.  I kept explaining to him how differently she would have treated him if she had truly honored and respected him.  He had such a hard time leaving her even after she blocked him on facebook because he loved her so deeply, but I am glad that I helped him find the inner strength to move on from her. 

Also a white male Christian lawyer who represented my parents suffered emotional abuse from his Asian-American wife throughout their marriage, which lasted over 20 years.  He stayed in the marriage “for the sake of the children” and endured her cruelty toward him.  He finally found the courage to seek a divorce from her after their children had left the house for college.  I only wish he could have understood that he didn’t need to suffer his wife’s abuse just ‘for the sake of the children.’  He could have spared himself and his children much agony by leaving the marriage earlier.  He has Ivy League college and law degrees, which shows that even some men at the pinnacle of our society are being abused by their female partners.   
I saw this policy from a shelter  The policy indicated that male clients needing shelter would be placed in a hotel room, presumably along with their children.  I understand why this shelter is placing the abused man in the hotel room, because the typical domestic violence shelter is designed primarily for women and children.  Also abused women might be afraid of the presence of a man in the shelter, even a male abuse survivor.
However, I think it is much better if possible to create a domestic violence shelter specifically for men.  Men and women are different in many ways, but one of the best things about the shelter for me has been the comraderie and support of other women and the sense of real community that comes about through communal living.  I think that abused men should be entitled to this kind of community support instead of being isolated in a hotel room.  Also if abused men are staying together in the shelter with their children, the men will realize they are not alone as male abuse survivors.  And the men might stop being ashamed of themselves for having endured abuse by a female partner and stop blaming themselves for something that isn’t their fault.

I think that its unfortunate that very few abuse shelters exist specifically for men.  And while far fewer men need shelter from domestic violence than women, some men are clearly in need of a domestic violence shelter.  The next best solution if its not possible to create a domestic violence shelter for abused men is to admit abused men into the primarily female domestic violence shelter.   

I was outraged to learn that when some abused men called the police for support, they were instead arrested for battery that they didn’t commit.  The reason why this happens to some abused men is that since the majority of domestic abuse is committed by men, therefore the cultural assumption is that the man must be at fault in any domestic violence situation.  However, this assumption is not true for all domestic violence cases.  And so police and the courts need to realize that in some domestic violence situations, the man is the victim and the woman is the aggressor.  

At the same time, I find it appalling that many of the advocates of shelters for men present false “evidence” that men and women are equally violent.  The advocates of men’s shelters often harbor a very obvious and unfortunate anti-woman bias as evidenced by their virulent attacks on feminists and the domestic violence movement. In fact the overwhelming evidence is that men commit the 83% of domestic violence murders, and that men are roughly 15-29% of the victims of domestic violence. 
Prior to leaving my abusers, I had planned to focus my career on translating Russian-language political and historical documents and on doing research using my Russian language skills.  I might still pursue my passion for Russian studies at a later date.  I also remain involved in supporting the freedom struggles of Iran, Syria, and Libya and in supporting Israel as a Jew.  And I’m proud to have played a small part in the liberation of Iraq from Saddam’s genocidal tyranny. 
But since I have left my abusers, I have come to realize that I have a different and maybe better destiny: that my profession is likely to be writer, advocate, and scholar of domestic violence and child abuse.  I can use both my personal experience as a survivor of severe emotional child abuse and also my fluency in Spanish to conduct research in support of programs to help Hispanic women and children who are being abused.  Also I have deep knowledge of international relations which I can use to support programs for victims of domestic violence in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. It is really a pleasure to use my skills to help others because to me the only thing that can redeem my suffering is using it to help others.   I cannot change what my abusers have done to me, but if I can use my experience to help other survivors on their journey toward healing, then it will have been completely worthwhile. 
The Refugee Family Services in Atlanta, Georgia, has a wonderful program for survivors of global political repression who have received political asylum and settled in the Atlanta area. The following web site indicates that the agency has staff members from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burma, Bhutan, Estonia, Bosnia, Somalia, and Iraqi Kurdistan who speak an incredible variety of language.  They speak the European languages of English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Bosnian, and Russian.  They speak several Middle Eastern and South Asian languages such as Arabic, Farsi, Kurdish, Somali, Hindi, Nepali, and Bengali.  Their Burmese staff member, Joshua William, is presumably a member of the persecuted Karen ethnic minority in Burma who speaks Burmese and also two dialects of Karen: Pow Karen and Sgaw Karen.  Their Somali staff member Zahra Amin speaks a language I’ve never heard of: Braveness/Chimini.  Their staff member from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Micheline Salama, alone speaks six languages: English, French, Swahili, Lingala, Kirundi, and Kiryarwanda.  Lingala is a tribal and Bantu language spoken by at least ten million people in Central Africa, Kirundi is spoken in Burundi, and Kiryarwanda is the national language of Rwanda.
At the same time, I also question one of the objectives listed on their program for political refugees.  On page 4 of this program, they set a goal for employable refugees to find a job within sixty days of arrival. . Considering my own situation, I think that goal is unrealistic and unfair to refugee families.  I am an American survivor of severe emotional child abuse who has fled her abusers at age 35.  I possess some financial resources and am a native English speaker.  Nearly 60 days after my arrival in the transition shelter, I have not had the emotional strength to even put together a resume, let alone launch a job search.
I think that political refugees from places like the DRC or Burma would face more severe obstacles than me.  They would undoubtedly be suffering severe forms of post-traumatic stress disorder from being imprisoned, beaten, and sexually abused for many years.   Most likely they would have been forced to witness atrocities that are unimaginable to most Americans, such as murders and terrorist attacks and perhaps the deaths of their loved ones.  In addition they probably would not speak English and would be totally unfamiliar with American culture.  I think political refugees need to spend more time learning English, becoming acculturated to the United States, and healing emotionally from their trauma before they can begin a job search.  When Jews immigrate to Israel, the Israeli government pays for them to attend a five month Hebrew language immersion program before they are expected to look for a job.  So I think political refugees in the United States should ideally be given the opportunity to spend 6 months studying English and healing emotionally before starting a job search.       
I wish to revise another one of my statements.  I had said that the feminist movement in the USA had not been effective in reducing domestic violence despite decades of effort.  I am pleased to report that actually I was wrong.
From 1976 to 2002, the number of women murdered annually by their intimate partners fell by 25% in the U.S.A.  This number represents a substantial reduction in the rate of murders of women by their intimate partners.  Of course any deaths due to domestic violence are always tragic, and even one death from this tragedy is too many.  But the decline in the number of women murdered under these circumstances represents limited progress nonetheless.  In the same period, the smaller number of men murdered by their intimate partners fell by a much more substantial proportion, or 71%.
Also the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), passed in 1994, has had an even more substantially positive effect.  The rate of non-fatal intimate partner violence against women fell by an astounding 50% in just 14 years in the USA from 1994 to 2008.  The USA is apparently developing effective models which are actually saving women’s lives and also reducing the level of non-fatal violence committed by men against their female partners.   These models can be adapted to other countries to help save and improve women’s lives abroad as well.  

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