The former -- the clients I help through my job -- had bad things happen to them because the circumstances of their lives were unavoidable. Abject poverty, for example. Abusive parents. Severe mental illness or addiction. An intimate partner who was once happy and charming but who now lives at the intersection of despair and rage. Incredibly and against all odds, many of these victims become survivors. They find the agency and the pathways to move forward, clear-eyed, open-hearted, hope-filled. Some even break the cycle of intergenerational victimhood. They don't let it define them.
The latter had bad things happen in their lives, at least in part, because of the choices they made. Despite the stories they (and their enablers) tell themselves, they cannot heal (much less move on) until they own their role in their It's-Wasn't-Me-It-Was-You story.* Until they see their embodied memories for what they are -- self-serving stories told over and over again until they actually believe their Story is Truth -- they will remain stuck somewhere between co-dependence, self-pity and delusion, pointing their fingers outward. Armored up by way of focus-group-tested narrative and critical (or more accurately, non-critical) consensus: "These things just happened to me! I had nothing to do with it," they won't enter healthy relationships, won't break free from their patterns, and won't get past their self-inflicted suffering. They will bring the people around them down with the ship ... until those people can break free, move away, grow up and out of their story.
The victims I serve are often caught up in the domestic violence cycle. That is to say they fall within the former camp. They are real victims. They love the partner who hurts them. They depend on him (using gendered pronouns for simplicity) financially, emotionally because he has made sure of it via power and control. He is often the father of their children. He has isolated her, gaslighted her, diminished her. DV statistics tell us she will try to leave but will return an average of seven times before breaking the ingrained cycle.
One victim for whom I am an advocate has returned to our organization three times with a battered face and body. Most recently, she called me while she was hiding in the bathroom. Her abuser was asleep in their bedroom. She wanted to be on the phone with me when law enforcement arrived because in the past he silenced her and refused to answer the door. The amount of cortisol causing my body to shake uncontrollably undoubtedly paled in comparison to hers, despite the numbing agents (aka adaptive coping strategies) she employed. When I heard law enforcement pounding on the door, I told her to answer or call out for help.
"I can't," she whispered.
"Did he wake up?"
"Yes," she said, crying quietly.
"You can," I said, "scream help."
Then the call dropped.
Two hours later, after my fortuitously-timed weekly therapy session (there was tapping) and after a therapist friend did a grounding exercise with me by phone (there was more tapping), I had stopped shaking enough to call the victim again (always from our blocked number), praying she would answer.
She did. From the ER. She was safe.
That was two weeks ago. She is back with her abuser now. In the interim, I got her into an all-women safe shelter. She didn't like it. Everyone is in lockdown mode due to COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders and, deprived of her adaptive coping strategies (as in, alcohol and other drugs of choice), she wanted to go anywhere else.
But, I wanted to her remind her, wherever you go, there you are.
Next time I see her -- and there will be a next time -- I will share the below Hopi Prophecy with her.
I've been reading it daily since a friend, who is a true survivor in every sense of the word, shared it during my women's group in another friend's backyard (we practiced physical distancing AND it was hard because we love each other and hug early and often).
You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour.
And there are things to be considered…
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your truth.**
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for your leader.
Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word ’struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
--Hopi Elders' Prophecy, June 8, 2000
* Victims of crimes when they were children are excluded -- they played no role in the horrors that transpired in their lives.
** Your truth being your story, which is always worthy of sharing, but is not to be confused with objective truth or reality ... or what really happened and why.
*** In addition to the books I've already shared with her, including Moore (Birds of America), Didion (The Year of Magical Thinking), Doyle (Love Warrior and Untamed), Lamott, (Traveling Mercies), Gilbert (City of Girls), Ngozi Adiche (Americanah), Cline (Girls) and Diamont (Red Tent), the latter being one of her favorites. She is a voracious reader and loves fantasy novels as well, so I also gave her a trove of those, the authors of which I couldn't tell you.