Sunday, April 13, 2014

Holding a community in love and light

Just hours ago there were two shootings in our community - at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park and at Village Shalom, a senior living center down the street. Five people have been shot and three are dead, according to news reports. It appears to be an anti-Semitic attack.

I worked inside the JCC for four years and many of my friends still do. None of us yet know the names of the victims, but our whole community is bracing itself. There were a couple of community events going on at the time and the center was filled with children and teens.

I can't even begin to wrap my head around what happened. I have no eloquent words to share right now. I just wish so much peace and love and comfort to those whose lives were forever changed today. 

As news of the tragedy was filling our feeds, a severe thunderstorm rolled through the region, knocking out power and cable. My dear friend Celeste, who worked in the office next to me all those years, posted this picture tonight. It seems the skies are mourning along with us.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Why doesn’t she just leave? A view from inside the trenches.

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was late at night. The room was dark and I was lying in bed. I had just fed our two-week old son and my husband was changing his diaper at the end of the bed. We were both bone tired.

He removed the diaper and was reaching for a clean one when our son did what little boys all over the world do when you take off their diapers. He peed. We were usually prepared for this and had perfected a technique of covering him up with a cloth until a new diaper was secured in place. However, in his half-asleep state, my husband had forgotten to do this.

His reaction was swift and fierce. He slammed his fist down on the bed, inches from our son’s head. He accused our infant son of deliberately peeing on him. He was livid.

For a moment, I sat frozen. Then I reached down and grabbed my son, who was now wailing, and held him close to my chest. My heart was racing. My mind was racing. I wanted to scream back at him and tell him that he was crazy. That this was a biological reflex and who the hell assigns hostile motives to a two-week old infant? But I didn’t do that. My instinct told me to remain quiet. My instinct told me to lie there and hold my son, to quiet his cries and remain still until my husband fell asleep.

* * *

Yesterday, there was an emotional confrontation in the Australian media over some proposed legislation that would impose a harsh sentence on mothers with violent partners if they failed to report child sexual abuse. I have a lot of friends in Australia and the story has filled my news feed. Kerri Sackville wrote a beautiful post about it, if you’d like more information.

The story naturally caught my attention. I was the wife of an abusive man and he was convicted of sexual crimes against children. I reported him and cooperated with police. Doing so made my situation even more unsafe.

The exchange in question was between Joe Hildebrand, a Sydney columnist, and Rosie Batty, the mother of a young boy who was recently murdered by his father. Mr. Hildebrand said that fear for one’s own safety should never be an excuse for a mother not reporting child abuse. He said women need to leave abusive relationships, full stop. Ms. Batty (who, by the way, showed remarkable poise and clarity of thought for someone who has recently lost a child) said he was misguided and that the law should punish the abuser and not victims of abuse.

Mr. Hildebrand’s comments reflect a very common view of domestic violence: It’s wrong. It’s bad. Women should just leave. They are fools for staying.

It’s an understandable view, but it shows a real lack of comprehension of what abuse really is. It’s not simply violence. Abuse, at its core, is about power and control. I wonder how the conversation would change if we stopped talking about violence and started talking about control.

If you are a man in a bar and you get into a fight with some random stranger and he threatens you, then yes, leaving will probably put an end to the threat. He doesn’t want to control you. He’s just pissed off.

If you are a woman in an abusive relationship, leaving will absolutely not put an end to the threat. It will, in fact, increase it. Women are 75% more likely to be killed when they leave an abusive relationship than when they stay.

The thing is, both Mr. Hildebrand and Ms. Batty have valid points. Child sexual abuse should be reported. But women should not be held accountable for their partner’s crimes. A woman who reports abuse may have a lot to fear. Often, reporting child (or any) abuse will set off a dangerous chain of events that may further threaten the safety of both the mother and her children.

While there are laws in place to hold perpetrators accountable, the enactment of those laws is often inadequate and painfully slow. Laws alone will not keep a woman safe from an ex-partner intent on hurting her.

In my case, it took three years from the opening of the investigation of my ex-husband’s case until he was convicted and imprisoned. Three years. That’s a long time to feel unsafe.

I was lucky. I had the means to front a legal battle to protect my children. I had savings and a retirement fund I could deplete to pay the mortgage and utilities on my home while I couldn’t live there, while I was hidden away in a safehome because I was afraid if he found us, he would kill us. And when he did find us, I had a friend who slept downstairs with a gun, and other friends who made sure the kids and I found another safe place to go. I had a network of supportive people who loved me and believed me.

For those reasons, I am able to sit here today and write this post.

But most women don’t have that. I am the exception to the rule.

When my ex-husband slammed his fist down on the bed, I did not have those means. I was not working and had no income. I had a newborn and a toddler. I had a cancer diagnosis. Both my parents were deceased. Shortly after the incident, I told him I would leave him if he ever touched one of the children. I had no idea how I would do it, but a line was drawn in the sand. I was lucky that it would be years before he crossed that line. And by then, I was prepared.

There it is again. I was lucky.

That moment after he slammed his fist down on the bed, I say I was frozen, but that’s not entirely accurate. It wasn’t that I was incapable of action. I was simply doing what women in abusive marriages all over the planet do every day. I was assessing the situation, trying to simultaneously read a hundred silent clues and predict the safest next step. It wasn’t a deliberate or even a conscious process. It was primal and intuitive. It was a survival instinct.

If you have never felt that kind of fear, if you have never had to protect your child from someone who exerted financial, emotional and physical control over you, you have no right to tell a mother what she should or should not do. Because, honestly, you don’t even know what you yourself would do.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Sentencing Verdict

I just received news this afternoon that my ex-husband, who was convicted of possession of child pornography in May of 2013, received his sentencing.

He has been sentenced to 4 years in prison, followed by 5 years of supervision after release. He has been fined $12,500. He will be required to attend sex offender classes while in custody and must register as a sex offender for life.

The sentencing was originally scheduled for August of 2013, and has been continued seven times since then.

I really had no idea what the final sentence would be. The original sentencing guidelines called for 5-10 years, however he pleaded early in exchange for a shorter sentence. I had heard he might get as much as 4.5 years and as few as 18 months. I can live with this verdict.

I have been an absolute wreck leading up to this. I was hoping for the best and fearing the worst. I feel like I can breathe again.

Thanks to my lovely Facebook friends for holding my hand through this.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Silence that Speaks Volumes

I have a goal of writing more often. I’ve had this goal for a long time, and yet I continue to post only sporadically.

There are some obvious reasons for my silence. I have a demanding job. I’m a sole parent of two kids. My list of things to do is never-ending.

But the truth is, all these things existed a few years ago when I was writing full bore. I wrote anyway, because writing was something that brought me satisfaction and connection and a measure of hope in a world that had become very dark. I needed to write. It kept my head above water.

So what happened to change that?

The truth is that somewhere between then and now I became afraid to write openly and honestly.

When I began writing about my experiences with abuse, I broke a decade-long silence. Abuse is about power and control, and when I started speaking out, my then-husband fought to silence me. With a restraining order preventing him from having any direct contact with me, he had to find another arena to exercise his control, and that became the courtroom.

Whatever brought us into a shared courtroom, whether our divorce proceedings, hearings to determine custody and visitation, or his criminal trial, he used it as an opportunity to attack my writing.

I never quite figured out why his attorneys kept weaving my blog into their arguments. It was never made explicitly clear. I didn’t understand what my writing had to do with whether or not my ex-husband was guilty of possessing child pornography.

The best I can figure is that it was a red herring. He had no credible defense. I was a key witness, responsible for discovering and handing over evidence to the police. At the very least, it was in their best interest to discredit me as a witness.

The other factor which contributed to my silence was that during the couple of years that I backed away from blogging, the blogging world underwent a change. In Australia, where I was most closely connected, the blogging scene exploded in growth. With that growth came increased competition and monetization and jockeying for position. What had once felt like an inclusive and supportive community now felt larger and more impersonal.

Now that the dust is beginning to settle from my ordeal and I consider writing freely again, it is into this changed atmosphere that I venture.

My experience taught me many things. It taught me that life is a gift not to be squandered. It taught me to take risks, to speak out, to embrace my truth and not back down. It taught me to open my heart and love fully, because a partially-closed heart offers no protection, only the illusion of protection.

However, it also taught me that there are often legitimate reasons to feel fear. I am now slower to trust and quicker to assume a defensive posture.

It is this mixed bag of gifts that I carry forward with me as I consider my next steps.

Not long ago I was contacted by a man who is writing a book on post-traumatic growth. He had come across my blog and wanted to include my story in his book. He was interested specifically in how blogging, and the community support that came from that, was instrumental in my healing.

In my conversations with him, I shared how much that support had helped me. It lifted me out of the emotional chaos of my marriage and provided me with clarity and a perspective that was grounded in compassion. It helped me bridge the isolation. It was a hundred sets of hands holding the corners of a net that caught my freefall.

I remember sitting in my room, a week after the assault, debating whether I should write about it.  I wanted so much to simply tell the truth, but I feared the repercussions. I feared exposing the messy and unpalatable truth of my life. I worried that it would impact my safety. Once I hit publish, there was no going back.

In the end, of course, I shared everything. The whole excruciating and liberating truth. In the words of Anais Nin, the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk to blossom.

There is some irony that now, three years later, I sit pondering essentially that same choice. The risk of speaking openly versus the (perceived) safety of silence.

The trial is over, but I still feel the resonance of the fear and intimidation that hovered over my shoulder for so many years. The lingering ghosts of abuse are often as insidious as the abuse itself.

Brene' Brown, author of Daring Greatly, tells the story of when she was waiting backstage to give what was destined to become one of the most popular TED talks ever. She was terrified of baring her soul to an audience of strangers, of failing to adequately entertain or enlighten them. In the end, as she walked on stage, she asked herself, "What's worth doing even if I fail?"

Thank you for showing up and catching my fall when I needed it most. Your concern and support was a point of light in what turned out to be a long and very dark night. And thank you for your patience as I venture back onto the stage and find my voice again in this new landscape.

Because for me, writing honestly and openly is that thing that is worth doing even if I fail.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ten Signs of Psychological Abuse

I have a new gig. I'm a contributing writer over at The Imperfect Mum, an Australian parenting website.

My first article is published there today and is all about helping you recognize psychological abuse. 

If you've ever been at the receiving end of these ten crazymaking tactics, you may feel like you've been hit by an invisible truck. Being able to recognize them, however, is the first step on the road to empowerment.

Click here to read about these Ten Signs of Psychological Abuse.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wait, did you say four cats?

Yes, I did.

Did you catch that reference in my last post?

I never intended to take cat ownership to this level, but don't judge until you've scrolled through all the adorable pictures.

Meet TJ. He came to us as a foster while he was recovering from surgery.

He had a procedure called femoral head ostectomy, or FHO. You may have heard of it, as it is a fairly common treatment in dogs and is used to treat a congenital condition called hip dysplasia. In TJ’s case, his injury was caused by an unknown trauma.

His surgery was successful and we brought him home for a few weeks to recuperate. I had to perform physical therapy on him several times a day, gently extending and contracting his back leg. Though he clearly didn’t enjoy the therapy, he tolerated it amazingly well. He is a gentle, sweet, inquisitive cat and it didn’t take long for him to work his way into our hearts.

I mean, seriously, look at him. How could anyone say no?

Caring for four cats at once can be challenging. However, I worked hard to get them on the same napping schedule, which helped immensely.

You may have noticed that I’ve been posting on average about once a month. This has nothing to do with writer's block and everything to do with a lack of time. However, we were hit with a big winter storm yesterday that dumped 12 inches of snow on us, giving us two snow days in a row.

I have used my found time to write three posts – two for Wanderlust and one for a parenting website. That’s one post every 4 inches. I understand another storm system is headed our way. I am forecasting increased posting through the end of winter.

Also cancelled due to snow was my ex-husband's sentencing, which was scheduled for yesterday morning. It was originally set for August of last year, then continued to October, then November, then January, then February, and now to an as-yet-unknown date. I'm wondering if it's possible for it to be continued indefinitely. That way, if he gets sentenced to five years in a hearing ten years from now, he could just take the additional time served as credit against future incarceration.

Works for me.


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