Last night I went to an Al-Anon meeting. One of the readings for the day was about domestic violence and whether an Al-Anon member should give advice. The Al-Anon policy is to never give advice. You can share your "experience, strength and hope" but you should not tell another person what they should or shouldn't do. The ultimate decision is up to the individual. In afterthought that sounds sensible but my initial response to the reading was disagreement. I thought that violence should never be acceptable as part of an intimate relationship. Once it is accepted, the dynamics of the relationship changes. It is no longer one person being controlling of another, it becomes one person dominating the other, one person taking away basic inalienable rights from another. The right to privacy, the right to free speech, the right to free movement, the right to free association with others, and especially the right to personal safety. The violence and injustice of the world is brought inside the home. Over time this creates an incredible emotional, mental and spiritual malaise over the victim to the point where rational judgment is not freely available.
But most people don't realize this, that domestic violence is torture. I don't use that word lightly. It is not enough to turn the other cheek, to love your abuser. In order to return to reason you must detach from the torturer because if you don't the abuse spirals out of control even to the point of death. The abuser must take responsibility for his actions if there's going to be any positive change. If he (she) doesn't, then there is no relationship just a drastic imbalance of power. So, when is it okay to intervene? If someone came to me and confessed that he/she was being tortured by his/her lover, I don't know if I could just stand by and say "Do what your heart tells you to do." I would probably say call a hotline, find a shelter, get legal advice, do something to give yourself more options. Don't despair, believe in your goodness, believe in your right to exist.
At the same time I believe there should be options available for those who are abusive. They, too, should have somewhere to turn to get help, to salvage their relationships if possible. But when it comes to healing domestic violence, the very first step to my mind is separation along with individual counseling and support groups. It takes time for a victim to heal and time for an abuser to realize he/she needs help. For those abusers who refuse to get help there is little hope, all the more reason to support those who admit to their faults and get help. They set a good example. Just as victims who take back their autonomy set a good example for other abuse victims.
I don't mean to imply that any of this is easy. I was fortunate in that I had no children with my abuser and had my family's financial and emotional support. But many have children and are not financially independent. They may not have the support of their families. They may be so isolated that they have no friends to turn to for help. If they are to get the help they need, they have to take the risk and reach out for it and this reaching can be very hard in itself. All the more reason when someone comes to a meeting and admits abuse to stand by that person in whatever way possible. It may just be a phone number and a place to keep extra keys and money for an emergency or a temporary place to stay. It may be the use of a phone or a computer. Something, anything that allows the victim a sense of extra options and security, a sense of community support, an end to the isolation.
Too often, people withdraw from abuse victims instead of embracing them. I believe if more abuse victims were welcomed into other people's lives, there would be a substantial drop in the violence against them mainly because they'd have more choices as to how to handle the situation. More people to call, more places to go, more ways out instead of back. And why shouldn't the community provide ways out for victims of domestic violence?
And I don't just mean the police or domestic violence shelters but anyone who knows anything about the situation. If people joined together to intervene wouldn't it send a message out to abusers everywhere that abuse is everyone's concern, that you can't hide it anymore and continue the abuse. And wouldn't it give the victim the kind of support he/she deserves?
I wish someone had intervened in my case, not only because it may have saved me a whole lot of suffering but also because it may have given my abuser (who I did love) an opportunity for change as well. An intervention would show the abuser (in a non abusive way) that the secret is out and that is half the battle. Put a stop to the isolation and to the shame of it all and the negative dynamic will begin to change towards the positive. Support both the victim and the abuser (together, then separately) for both are suffering from mental illness and deserve guidance and compassion.
Having said all this I still question myself. The Al-Anon program stresses self-responsibility and self care because many spouses, lovers, friends, family, etc... try to control the problem and keep their focus on the alcoholic/addict--judging and blaming them while trying to take care of them. And I believe there is much truth in this. When in doubt, keep the focus on yourself, work your own program, if possible, detach with love from your alcoholic abuser. But still there is this big BUT in me that says once a line has been crossed it's time to prepare to take some action. As an individual, to take care of yourself and as members of a community to take care of that community.
A Recovery Blog
This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.