Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Everyone who reads me regularly knows that I despise the question "Why does she stay?" when asked about domestic-abuse victims. I've written and stated many times that I resent the fact that so many people, of both genders often respond to an incident of family violence by asking why the woman stays (and, yes, in the vast majority of instances, the victim is a woman. And often her children.) Many of them even mean well.
I believe that question, asked first, is an abdication of responsibility. It is a way to blame the victim while, too often, doing way too little about the man who is trying to kill her, and may be more likely to finish the job when she actually tries to leave.
I also know that we do need to ponderin public and within ourselveswhy women so often are attracted to and stay in violent situations, and keep their children there with them. Even if it isn't the first question we askpleaseit should be a close second, especially if asked in an honest, probing, let's-do-something-to-help-women-have-the-courage-to-save-themselves kind of way.
Put another way, even as we work hard as individuals and a community to make it harder for men to get away with abusing, and even try to stop him from escalating violence (like with the Duluth Model the JFP helped bring to Jackson), we also must look squarely at ourselves as women and at our friends and family, and consider what we can do to not become victims in the first place.
Doing both in no way "blames" the victim. It is a way to take responsibility for saving ourselves, and become strong women who will not accept even the early forms of abuse that starts verbal and goes from there.
We can learn self-respect and command respect from others. And truly we must; I've got enough Zen philosophy packed inside me at this point that I know it all starts within and that we control our environments and destinies. I also know that I can believe that to the core even as I do what I can to get the criminal-justice system to take domestic abuse seriously and stop shifting blame to victims.
Last Thursday night at the Pearl Street AME Church, I was honored to moderate a different kind of domestic-violence event, presented by Dress for Success of Metro Jackson. This one was, well, a bit more glamorous than usual, and the focus was different than many talks about domestic violence that focus more on the abuser than the abused. This one was directed squarely at what women could do to escape the victim mentality.
The speaker was Sil Lai Abrams, a gorgeous ex-fashion model who now writes the relationships column for Men's Health magazine and travels around the country promoting self-esteem to women (and when they're lucky enough to be there, men). She has written a book called "No More Drama: Nine Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown Into a Breakthrough," in which she pushes what she calls "SEPIA"essentially her nine steps to recovery from living in a constant state of drama.
Her book describes her personal drama journey from being a boozin' floozy in the big city who measured her self-worth by the latest disaster of a man she hooked for a while. She was raped after putting herself into a very dangerous situation, and she was abused by a number of men who, well, she should have known better than to be with.
As I lay in bed reading her book, I first recoiled from the detailed stories she told, for a minute thinking the book about her clubbing life in the big city was unrealistic for most women. Then it hit me: In many ways, I had lived the same life, starting as a teenager in Mississippi and then boozin' and floozin' in the big city. And, yes, some of the same awful things happened to me. And yes again, I often blamed others for my fate as I did everything I could to live a life of stupid drama.
Today, I promote the path of least dramaat home and in the workplaceand I try to avoid the kinds of people who live off constant drama because I know they drag me and my business and my team down. But I didn't always: I used to live in a constant state of self-inflicted drama, and I surrounded myself with like souls. As a result, I got very little work of substance done in my 20s, I was terrible at taking criticism, thinking I already knew everything and, when it came to relationships, well, let's just say that Sil Lai and I have a remarkable amount in common.
After a whole lot of soul-searching, meditative thought and conscious effort to avoid negativity (and, yes, a touch of therapy), I know now, of course, that I was raised in a state of high dramaa "generational curse," Sil Lai calls it. My poor, dear mother did the best she could with what she had, but due to her lack of education, her choices were very limited. She was drawn to flawed, alcoholic men, thinking she could fix them. She was surrounded by people so bored by their circumstances that they would get pregnant to fill up their time (wrong reason) and then harangue and direct their kids into the same mega-drama existence.
She was loving and compassionate, and she often put those wonderful qualities to the wrong use. As a result, she was beaten and belittled and relegated to a lifetime of poverty. Her cycle started back when she was the only girl in a family of boys and, thus, kept home by her own abusive father to cook and work the fields instead of attending school.
I won't lie; it has taken me many years to break the curse, and I backslide. But there was a pointin my 30sthat I consciously decided to reshuffle the deck I was dealt. I started to embrace the ideas that no one else can make a person happy, that we enable others to mistreat us, that we have choices, that life is not about constantly trying to change some man into a better person. That's up to him to do, and not while he's hurting me. Like Sil Lai, when I internalized the wisdom that I would not find meaning through a relationship, I started to find my voice as a writer, a speaker, a teacher, a journalist, a woman.
The irony, of course, is that is exactly when you start to attract a different kind of person into your life. The right kind.
Folks, as Sil Lai says, be more than a sum of your past: Find your truth and accept it; eliminate shame and blame; and take committed action to find and share your gifts. Find a mentor, and surround yourself with positive people who avoid petty squabbles and seek the light. And for God's sake, leave the drama in your past where it belongs.