The truth after the storm

On Friday I wrote a piece articulating my struggles with PTSD.  I’ve only recently begun writing about the ongoing consequences of my ex-husband’s choice to abuse me, mainly because I had this fear of people judging me as incompetent to do the work I do.  That somehow the ongoing impact of male violence on me would preclude me from contributing fully to addressing it.  I guess it revealed to me some of my own fears and prejudices.  That even though I work full time on ending violence against women and wider issues of gender injustice and though I would be the first to challenge language and attitudes which blame women for the abuse men have chosen to perpetrate, deep down the truth has been that I believed I needed to be fixed, no longer affected, in order to offer myself to the cause.

 

I regularly stand up and share my story.  A few years ago I spent time working at a few large Christian conferences for men.  More recently I have begun working with perpetrators.  And in all of those spaces, either telling my story, spending time within all-male spaces or working with perpetrators, I feel a responsibility to represent women well.  To not perpetuate the issues which lead to stereotyping of women, to challenge the misrepresentation of women, and when telling my story, to do it in a way that will challenge misconceptions, preventing anyone leaving after hearing me thinking that abuse happens to “those women, out there”.

 

I once spoke at a conference where I had been billed as “THE VICTIM PERSPECTIVE”.  I walked into the building with some other people attending the same event.  As we chatted about the day ahead, one woman said to me, “I’m very interested to hear the victim perspective.”  I responded, “Oh yes, it will be very interesting won’t it?”

 

After the event that same woman came over to talk with me, she told me I had shocked her, she would never have expected me to be a victim, that she would never hold those same views again.

 

Yet perhaps by sharing a story of being okay I have misled those who have heard me speak.  Perhaps those who are currently dealing with the impact of male violence or those with family and friends who have been hurt, I have suggested that there will come a day when everything is sorted, that being fixed is the aim.  Yet there is a sense that no matter how far we come, how good life gets; the pain of male violence doesn’t end.

 

This is why we must prevent it, why addressing the root causes of male violence; ownership, entitlement and inequality are so important.  Because once the damage is done, life will never be the same.

 

I attended an event called “Woman at the well” run by an organisation called Transformation Powerhouse a while ago.  During the evening one of the women leading the event said she had a word from God for me (I know those of you reading this without a faith may be a bit like “okay…” at this point, but bear with me).  She basically said that God had told her I have so so much love to give, but that fear is getting in the way of me offering it.  She (and God) are right.  My fear of being honest, of being judged too broken, of being patronised or disparaged has prevented me from offering my all.  Thinking that by telling of the pain as well as the victory would diminish me.  And yet the story shrinks if it is not told fully.  The ending of being fixed denies the truth of being broken.

 

I attended a session with a Human Givens therapist on Friday. I only needed one session in which she did something called the Rewind Technique.  It is an effective treatment for PTSD symptoms and basically resets the brain to factory settings and moves the trauma that has led to a serious episode from the lower brain (which deals with trauma) to the upper and then mid-brain which sees the trauma as a memory rather than an ongoing, current event.

 

I arrived at the session unable to communicate much, numb, exhausted and incapable of making decisions (anyone who knows me will realise that’s basically me losing my entire personality).  After the session I was back, my brain worked, I decided to go for food (both deciding and eating were impossible for me to do ninety minutes earlier) and I was able to think, laugh and generally be myself again.

 

Over the weekend I’ve felt quite fragile.  Although I’m back, social interaction is tiring and I’m vaguely subdued.  But I’m on way back to being normal.

 

So many people have offered their love, prayers and kindnesses over the weekend.  Texts, tweets, emails, direct messages, cake and offers drive miles just to sit with me.  Even when I felt unable to respond, the love and care has been much appreciated, so thank you if you are one of the many who have loved me!

 

I’m still the same person I was before I began sharing the downs as well as the ups, the feelings as well as the doings, but hopefully now I’m over the fear of being so vulnerable, I will bring more of the truth to this battle and as we know, it is the truth that sets us free.

Advertisements

Guest Post: This Is My Story

I have the privilege of sharing a friend’s story here. She shared with me a small part of her story and I asked if she would like to tell it anonymously, more publicly.  I think she is tremendously brave for having said yes.

 

I have had this post in my head for a long time now, unsure quite how it would translate on the page and agonising over how to say it.

 

I was going to say ‘I was a victim of domestic violence ‘but I didn’t like the word victim and then I thought of ‘I am a survivor of domestic violence’ but again the connotations of the word survivor didn’t feel quite right and I could all but stop myself singing Destiny’s Child in my head and that wasn’t it at all. I almost settled for ‘I experienced domestic violence ‘but somehow that makes it feel like I went on a cinema trip or something.

 

So I suppose I came to the conclusion I should just tell my story and that it would all fall into place, that somehow the words on this page would express what I wanted them to and that actually it’s less about how I say it but more about what I say, what I want to say.

 

This, my story, has ruminated within me for a long time, desperate to get out but with no outlet.I am not at the stage rightly or wrongly where I can say all of this in any other guise but that of anonymity. I am brave enough to speak it aloud but not yet brave enough to bare all with my name to it.

 

@God_loves_Women has been somewhat of an inspiration to me, her boldness and passion and her ability to use her story and her experiences to strive for things to be better, for good to come out of evil. Her bravery astounds me. She offered me this opportunity to be able to tell my story when I admitted I didn’t feel I could be brave enough but that deep down I needed to tell it, to say it because I ultimately believe it is a path I have to take to receive true healing from it and to diminish the power it has held over me for a long time.

 

I recently opened up to a friend about it – I said “I suffered domestic violence’ and they were surprised because I don’t look like I have or act like I have maybe or perhaps I don’t fit the expected appearance or demeanour – who knows? I have thought about this a lot, is there really a ‘type’ who goes through these experiences? Or is it simply what we choose to accept to believe about it? That it’s a particular type of women only, that it wouldn’t happen to us?

 

It was 1999 and I was a fresh faced 18 year old heading off to university. I had a boyfriend, long term all through 6th form but inevitably the long distance thing didn’t work out. There was also a guy in my halls who was in the group of friends I had made and we hit it off really well. We ended up getting together.

 

With hindsight, I would love to be able to say that there were clear signs but there weren’t. I also think a lot of my better judgment was perhaps clouded by being in the university bubble, it’s not quite ‘real’ life somehow.

 

I guess at first I thought he was quite protective of me, or maybe that’s how I chose to accept it. I needed to have a part time job to supplement my loan to be able to survive at university. I worked part time in a local bar. I was very popular at work and got on really well with my colleagues, I also had to put up with a lot of the ‘banter’ and comments from the punters. I could handle it but often my boyfriend would come and sit at the bar and ‘watch over’ me and the situations.

 

He would talk to me when we were back in halls and say that I didn’t need to work because he would give me the money I earned there, he could afford to look after me so it shouldn’t be a problem. I avoided and ignored getting into this too much for about six months but in the end I left my job. I didn’t feel I could enjoy it in the same way, or stay after shift for drinks.

 

My course was quite a close knit group and I had a mixed group of friends I spent time with. I had less hours of lectures than my boyfriend so there were often times I was out in the pub or around the town with my course mates while my boyfriend was in lectures. He often commented that the other guys on my course were only after one thing and that I should be wary of them. He didn’t like me spending time with them and was very vocal about it even in front of them at times.

 

The day before my birthday in my first year we were cooking our dinner in the halls kitchen and we were chatting and I was talking about what we had done on our course that day and he suddenly became really angry, it took me by surprise to be honest as I had no idea where it had come from. “He fancies you and he wants you for himself and he’s laughing at me!’ he shouted at me. I asked him what he was taking about and he continued shouting, threw the bowl of chopped vegetables at me and then grabbed a pint glass and smashed it into his forehead.

 

At this point, I was screaming for help, for him not for me, because there was blood pouring down his head.

 

So the night before my birthday we sat in A&E waiting for him to have his head stitched up. I’m not quite sure what explanation we gave to the hospital staff or why now one of them didn’t take me aside and ask if I was ok. But, it didn’t happen. I also don’t know why at that point I didn’t completely freak out about the fact he had behaved that way but he apologised, said it was because he loved me so much and he just wanted me to be careful.

 

We went out with my course mates on my birthday. Some knew what had happened but none of them really mentioned it, I suppose in a way this further normalised the behaviour to me.

 

I remember one evening I had been out with my course mates and I came back to find my boyfriend crying in my room listening to Semisonic “She’s gone to the movies” and he was distraught about the fact he was losing me and that there was nothing he could do. I reassured him, he wasn’t losing me at all. I still struggle to listen to that song now or indeed any of that particular Semisonic album which is a shame because it’s a great album.

 

There was another trip to A&E, for me this time after an argument in my halls room where he had thrown me against the bed frame and I had damaged my neck – luckily not bad enough to need a brace, bruising mostly, but in a way I had wanted a neck brace because I had wanted someone to ask me what had happened so I could tell them, talk about it,

 

One of my closest friends pulled me aside one night and said he was worried about me because he had seen me happy and I wasn’t happy anymore and he wanted to know what would help. Part of me wanted to say something but I didn’t know what so I said I was fine and he shouldn’t worry

 

I suppose towards the end of my first year things must have calmed down or I was oblivious to what was going on because we decided that for our second year we would live together. We found a two bedroom flat to rent and all was well, we even went on holiday with his family abroad that summer.

 

The second year began fine, we had a flat that was our own. I was further away from my course mates but still seeing them regularly. My boyfriend just asked that I be home for when he arrived home for lectures.

 

I somehow turned into the little housewife. Home by 5pm, dinner cooking, kitchen and bathroom scrubbed and cleaned, hair and makeup done. I had no job anymore, I was given money. As I write this I can’t believe it either, that I didn’t see, that I didn’t recognise what was going on, but I didn’t.

 

I can’t remember why it happened or quite when but I found myself cowering on the stairs in the flat at one point while he repeatedly smacked the side of my face and my ear. It turned purple. I hid it with my long hair. He apologised, said he loved me, we moved on. I experienced real severe loss of balance and dizziness, I went to the doctor they said I had an issue with my inner ear, didn’t ask about the bruising. I stopped hiding my ear, no one mentioned it, so I didn’t. It healed,

 

One morning, I woke up and my hair was wavy, an extreme bed head look I guess, he said it looked nice, that I shouldn’t brush the waves out, so I didn’t. I had a lot of bruises on my upper arms and back he gave me one of his jumpers and said I should wear it so I think for a week I went to uni with unbrushed hair and a huge baggy jumper but no one asked me why or said anything so I normalised it all.

 

Our neighbours called the police one night, because of the screaming, they knocked at the door and I hid in bed. A female police officer came up to see me to ask if I was ok and I said I was fine, I told her that I had really bad PMT and things had got out of hand and I apologised and she left. Said I should call if I wanted to and I remember thinking that was odd, why would I need to call them?

 

He bought a hifi and was trying to sort out surround sound with wires etc. and got frustrated so he whipped the wires against my back a number of times and when I went to escape upstairs he head butted me in the face and broke my tooth.  I called the dentist desperate because of my tooth, not because of what had happened. They saw me the next day and the dentist mentioned the phrase ‘domestic violence’; and it sounded so alien and I explained to him that wasn’t what was happening to me.

 

We went to a fancy dress party and he got angry I was talking to a couple of guys from my course so he came up and pulled my hair really hard and called me a ‘slag’. Everyone was pretty drunk so there were some heated exchanges of words but by the next day it was all quite hazy in everyone’s minds so no more was said about it.

 

There were a whole catalogue of incidents, too many to write, and I didn’t say anything but I did start spending more time with a guy from my course. Nothing happened between us to begin with but then I kissed him and was immediately overcome with guilt. We saw each other for a while, my course mates knew and said nothing. I decided to end it with my boyfriend.

 

We split up but we still had months left at uni and we were sharing a flat, I moved into the spare room. I didn’t get together with the other guy, it was all too messy. Every now and then at night I would wake up because my ex-boyfriend was in my room, in my bed. It was easier just to put up with it,

 

An argument happened again, i don’t know why, it was early in the morning, I was still in my pyjamas and he threw me across the landing and kicked my knee, it is still scarred today. I think I passed out because I woke up I’m not so sure how long afterwards without my pyjama bottoms on.

 

I called the doctor and was seen by a nurse. She told me she was going to document what had happened and that I should go to the police. I didn’t go to the police, I went to the guy from my course, desperate, feeling so awful and in pain and miserable. He was great to begin with, I had a bath at his, he went and picked up some clothes for me and I felt safe with him, until a hug in his bedroom suddenly wasn’t enough for him and again it was easier to just put up with it.

 

I still blame myself regarding that particular incident and it smarts to write it down and it hurts and it’s still raw because I still can’t forgive myself, I should have known better, I cry as I type this as the judgment that many would heap upon me for all of this I heap on myself and I suppose that’s why I have never said it all because deep down I still feel like I’m to blame.

 

I sit here now and I can run my tongue over my broken tooth, I can still feel it in my mouth, it has been repaired twice but it sits there like a stone reminder of the mistakes I made and my bad decisions, when I wear a dress, the scar on my left knee shows, to me at least, it reminds me of how I failed as a woman. How I let my own kind down.

 

I never went to the police, the guy from my course told everyone that I had slept with him and I was shunned and labelled for my whole third year. I ended up sharing a house with four guys I didn’t really know but one of them was key to me surviving my third year because he became one of my best friends and exactly that, he never once tried anything or even entertained the idea of us getting together. I lost touch with him when I left but I am forever grateful to him.

 

So where am I now? I’m married with a young son and to all intents and purposes I have moved on, all of this that happened almost feels like a different life, like it wasn’t quite real. But typing this has brought out the rawness that still exists and the regret and the blame and the judgment and now I can work through it and make sure it has gone for good.

 

So why share my story? Why be so honest? Because. Because, I didn’t know that was domestic violence, because I was at university, because of the situation, I didn’t think it counted, I didn’t think anyone would care and on so many occasions people turned a blind eye and that kept me silent.

 

I write this because it’s not the only story, there are many more, hidden away, untold. I write this because I want to be free from carrying it as a burden in my heart any longer. I write this because it is the truth of what happened and the truth that was never told – not until now. I write this because at last someone wanted to know my story and someone allowed me to speak, to verbalise it and to set me free.

Karen Ingala-Smith, Desmond Tutu and Forgiveness

After writing this blog critiquing Archbishop Tutu’s article about forgiveness, I thought it may be valuable to respond to the specific things Karen Ingala-Smith says within her blog about his article. So here goes…

 

“But is it for the child to forgive the abusive parent? What does it mean for a boy child to forgive his father for violence towards his mother, essentially for a man to forgive another man for violence against women?”

 

I think Karen raises a really interesting point here. I read Tutu’s article as a forgiveness of his father for the trauma that it caused him, rather than absolving his father’s sins on behalf of his mother. Perhaps this is one of the differences in mine and Karen’s views of forgiveness. I would see the forgiveness I offered to someone as only related to their actions towards me, the hurt they caused other people, perhaps even within the actions towards me, would need to be forgiven by the other people that have been hurt. My forgiveness doesn’t absolve the offender’s sin, it is a decision for me to no longer wish that person harm. It doesn’t even remove the consequences of their choices, it is about the attitude with which I approach them.

 

“In a feminist analysis that identifies patriarchal society, religion has been shaped to protect men’s oppression of women.”

 

Karen and I may hold similar views on many things but it is here that our ideas diverge. I understand completely why she sees religion as an institution designed to maintain patriarchal systems of power. My experience as a church goer for my entire twenty nine years of life has proved over and over that religion is a patriarchal institution. But my faith and experience of God is not of a patriarchal entity desiring to control and subjugate me; it is of a truly liberating character that seeks to enable me to be more than I could have ever imagined. I don’t believe this understanding of faith can come outside of an experience with the Divine and so do not blame Karen for her strongly held conviction of this. However, perhaps her views are a wakeup call to the church. Gender justice is not a secondary issue if people reject all aspects of faith because of the Church’s investment of patriarchal structures.

 

“Apparently, in the bible there are two types of forgiveness: God’s pardoning of the sins of ‘his’ subjects, and the obligation of those subjects to pardon others.”

 

I struggle with the idea of forgiveness as an “obligation” and this is not my experience of faith. The times I have forgiven others has not been out of obligation. In fact it was when forgiveness felt like an obligation that I fell into a state of denial, pretending that if I just tried hard enough, I could make my ex-husband’s treatment of me not hurtful. It was as I felt the bitterness of hatred towards him that I decided I no longer wanted his treatment of me to define anything about me, including my feelings towards him that forgiveness became a reality for me.

 

“Being able to do so is so important that a believer’s eternal destiny is dependent upon it. Refusing to forgive is a sin. Forgiveness then is a selfish, not a selfless act.”

 

In Matthew 6 Jesus does states that unless we forgive one another, God won’t forgive us. We also find that in Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus prefaces His teaching on forgiveness by saying we must hold to account those who sin against us. None of these verses can be taken in isolation. I personally have never forgiven because I believe it will save me for eternity.

 

“… when talking about violence, [forgiveness] is an act that absolves the abuser of their responsibility…I disagree. We are more than the product of our experiences. We have consciousness, we make choices, we can see if our behaviour is harmful or hurtful to another. Abusers are always responsible for their abuse. If someone’s ‘god’ , or indeed another believer, can absolve someone for the choices that they make, their responsibility is erased.”

 

I totally agree with Karen here. Tutu’s assertion that forgiveness removes the responsibility of an abuser is not my understanding of Scripture. Surely the Christian faith is rooted in a belief of free will? No matter what leads up to our actions, our choices are just that, choices. The consequences and responsibility for abuse and violence are not eradicated in forgiveness, it is the ability for that offence to define us that is removed. If someone cuts off my legs, it does not matter how strongly I forgive them, I still have no legs. My experience of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection mean I know I am free, but if I choose to kill someone tomorrow, I will still have to deal with the consequences of that choice, as will everyone affected by that murder. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24,

 

““I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial.

“I have the right to do anything” – but not everything is constructive.

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

 

“By reducing male violence against women to an individual relationship, one in which someone who is neither perpetrator nor primary victim can bestow forgiveness, we are ignoring, condoning – forgiving – the wider impact of men’s violence upon women, upon all women above and beyond that individual relationship.”

 

All I can say to this is yes, yes and yes! We must be careful whenever talking of forgiveness that our message does not condone or justify behaviour. We must always consider how our words and actions impact the vulnerable and the hurting, and recognise the principalities and powers that we are fighting against; in this case the spiritual power of patriarchy.

 

“We cannot allow a person to say that this is okay, that this is forgiven, but it appears that religion encourages us to do just that. Indeed, male violence against women can be forgiven by god. That’s just a little bit convenient for patriarchy.”

 

Again I agree, we cannot allow forgiveness to blind us to the reality of patriarchy. We must not let forgiveness become a weapon of abuse, which for many women it has. The teaching on forgiveness disabled me from making good choices, it enabled an abuser to totally destroy me and it is doing the same to far too many people each and every day. We have a responsibility to ensure our communications, teaching and theology do not collude with or enable abuse. We must critique the systems which perpetuate and enable abuse to continue. This is a prophetic work and I believe that Karen Ingala-Smith and other radical feminists are doing this work while the church very often colludes with the systems of oppression Jesus came to set us free from. I applaud them for their work and thank them for their courage.

 

“In the UK, the mainstream is very quick to identify ‘other’ religions as oppressive to women but this is equally true of Christianity. Religion reinforces and upholds patriarchy, forgiveness is just another of its tools. We do not need to forgive male violence against women unless we want men to continue to dominate women.”

 

To some extent, I agree with this. I have seen religion uphold patriarchy, I have experienced forgiveness as a tool of patriarchy and it makes me weep, because that is not the whole story. I have spent most of the day deeply distressed at the reality of being an outcast. I don’t fit in the Christian world, with its 1950s housewives, its black and white clarity, its collusion with the Powers. And I don’t fit in the feminist world because I live for Jesus. I will unapologetically give my whole life to an awesome God whom most of the feminist world understand to be an oppressive construct propping up patriarchy, and yet it is in Her that I have found liberation and freedom. And I weep that those who are doing the work of the Kingdom cannot see the truth of that very Kingdom and that those who think they are part of the Kingdom are in fact working to prop up the Powers that seek to destroy the Kingdom.

 

What better way for the Powers to win, than convince those who love Jesus that the tools given for liberation be turned into weapons to destroy the Kingdom?

On Desmond Tutu and Forgiveness

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written of his journey to forgiving his father for abusing his mother. In an article for the Guardian he says, “I can still recall the smell of alcohol, see the fear in my mother’s eyes and feel the hopeless despair that comes when we see people we love hurting each other in incomprehensible ways.”

 

Karen Ingala-Smith has written an excellent blog critiquing Tutu’s message of forgiveness from an feminist atheist view. I have such deep respect for Karen and her tireless and enormously valuable work on ending male violence against women and girls. Her blog led me to thinking it would be useful to write my own response, from my perspective as a Christian feminist. (You can read my blog responding to Karen’s blog here.)

 

It must be acknowledged that for Archbishop Tutu to witness his father hurting his mother as a child is a terrible thing. Research suggests 750,000 children in the UK witness domestic abuse every year and the effects of such trauma can impact a person throughout their life. I hope my thoughts will in no way invalidate or undermine the pain and suffering of Archbishop Tutu has experienced as a result of his father’s choices. So much of his work and lie are to be admired and respected. As Karen says in her blog, his life has involved much good work. I also hope my thoughts in no way devalue the amazing work he has done and continues to do across the world.

 

I have known the power of forgiveness in my own life. For four years my ex-husband chose to hurt me. His choices left me suicidal, physically and mentally scarred and I only escaped after he assaulted me and my son was born three months premature. The effects of his choices continue to impact my life, with ongoing traumatic responses to what he did and with my children. For me forgiveness has been an enormous sacrifice, but one that has transformed me. I am not defined by what he forced me to become. I am free.

 

The theology I had learned in church about forgiveness and relationships disabled me from making good or safe choices. I met him when I was 17. He sexually manipulated and abuse me and I thought it was “sex before marriage”. I assumed my only way forward, twelve days into the relationship, was to commit my life to him, to marry him. His constant put downs and sexual relationships with other girls were seen by me as an opportunity to show him Jesus’ love. To forgive him and forget. I thought Psalm 51:7 applied to my actions “wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” I had to forgive him, to wash away all traces of his choices and then everything would be okay. But it wasn’t okay and I was pregnant within six months and four years later, lived in a hospital with a seriously ill child and a toddler, almost totally dead inside.

 

In that place I learned what it was to lose everything, to hit the end of everything and for me, it was in that place that I found God. And I have been on a journey since then. Part of that journey has been discovering what forgiveness is and what it is not. Forgiveness is never about nullifying the consequences of someone’s choices. It isn’t about reducing their behaviour to something we can justify or explain, in order to make it smaller and easier to accept. It isn’t about a forced feeling that allows us to believe that now “God can forgive us too”.

 

Forgiveness for me started by learning to forgive myself. The shame and abuse I suffered left me filled with self-hatred. To no longer blame myself for my ex-husband’s behaviour, but to fully hold him responsible. To know longer live in denial (which is what the teaching I had been given as a young person really meant; forgiveness equals denial). Then, once I had been through the long and painful journey of holding him fully responsible for his choices, I then chose to forgive him, over and over each time another memory surfaced. And for me that has been the liberation of no longer being defined or controlled by him. I don’t have to be filled with hatred for him, and I’m not. Forgiveness isn’t about letting him off the hook, but rather hoping he will stop hurting others and begin to live a positive life. It is wishing him well within a context of knowing he is currently dangerous and unsafe.

 

It is within that context of my own journey of and belief in forgiveness that I write about the article Archbishop Tutu has written.

 

“…see the fear in my mother’s eyes and feel the hopeless despair that comes when we see people we love hurting each other in incomprehensible ways.”

 

What he writes about is not two people hurting “each other” but one person hurting another person. Though this may seem like semantics, it is important to mention. I have written for EVB about the issue with talk about abuse as a relationship, as a “between” type thing.

 

“Intellectually, I know my father caused pain because he himself was in pain.”

 

Far from this being intellectually true, it is feeding into myths about abuse. Perpetrators do not abuse out of their pain, they abuse because of their beliefs about the person they abuse. They believe they own their partner and are entitled to behave in the ways they do because of this. Rather than this being a statement which holds his father to account, Archbishop Tutu actually justifies those choices.

 

“Spiritually, I know my faith tells me my father deserves to be forgiven as God forgives us all.”

 

The Bible does talk of us forgiving others, but I’m not sure it says that others deserve our forgiveness. Surely forgiveness is necessarily a voluntary act. Not because it is deserved, but because the person forgiving has made a choice to do so.

 

“If I traded lives with my father, if I had experienced the stresses and pressures my father faced, if I had to bear the burdens he bore, would I have behaved as he did? I do not know. I hope I would have been different, but I do not know.”

 

Perpetrators of abuse do not need empathy. We cannot put ourselves in the shoes of those who have beliefs of ownership and entitlement and consider that we too may behave in those ways. Forgiveness is not about being able to understand or provide reasons why someone did what they did, it is a choice in the midst of suffering to no longer be defined or held captive to what they have done to us.

 

“Forgiveness is not dependent on the actions of others.”

 

I do agree with this. It is not in the apologies of the offender that forgiveness is found. We can choose to release them from our hatred regardless of what they do. That is the beauty of it; the offender has absolutely no control over whether we forgive them or not. However, the other side of this is that if someone does apologise, we are under no obligation to reconcile with them. Reconciliation may put us emotionally or physically at risk. No matter how much the offender changes, we as the offended have the right to put in as many safeguards as we need.

 

Of his children, Archbishop Tutu says, “We have been able to forgive them because we have known their humanity. We have seen the good in them.”

 

The forgiveness we have for our children is different than that of a son forgiving a father. The power differential within all of our relationships must be considered when we think about forgiveness. Likening forgiving my child for keeping me up at night to the forgiveness of a son for the abuse his father perpetrated is not comparable. The power differential and the choice to bring those children into the world means that our relationship and responsibility means we make allowances for them in healthy ways.

 

Of his father he says, “…while his temper pained me greatly, there was so much about him that was loving, wise and witty.”

 

It is important to understand that abuse is not rooted in anger. It may appear as anger, but as I mentioned before, it is about beliefs. The belief in the inferiority of the person they hurt, that they are an object, a possession to be controlled.

 

“When I reflect back across the years to his drunken tirades, I realise now that it was not just with him that I was angry. I was angry with myself. Cowering in fear as a boy, I had not been able to stand up to my father or protect my mother. So many years later, I realise that I not only have to forgive my father, I have to forgive myself.”

 

One of the scars of abuse is blaming oneself, of believing oneself capable of impossible action, like that of a boy protecting his mother from his father. That self-blame is a lie. And though it may require self-forgiveness, it is also important to acknowledge that it is a lie that we believe in order to give us some illusion of power in a situation of utter powerlessness.

 

“No one is born a liar or a rapist or a terrorist. No one is born full of hatred. No one is born full of violence. No one is born in any less glory or goodness than you or me…We can easily be hurt and broken, and it is good to remember that we can just as easily be the ones who have done the hurting and the breaking.”

 

It is true that no one is born an abuser, however this statement does not take into account the systems which exert themselves on every person. That patriarchy insists men be dominant and that women are owned, is a fundamental system that must be challenged. Men do not abuse because they are hurt and broken, they abuse because a patriarchal system legitimises their choices. It is so important that we never lose sight of this. That Karen Ingala-Smith was left with the understanding that forgiveness enables patriarchal culture is not surprising if this is the message that is being given.

 

“It has taken me many, many years to forgive myself for my insensitivity, for not honouring my father one last time with the few moments he wanted to share with me. Honestly, the guilt still stings.”

 

It seems the feelings Archbishop Tutu has towards his own actions are more overwhelming the choices his father made to hurt his mother. Earlier in the article he talks of having forgiven himself, but it seems he is still far harder on himself for doing the best he could at that time than he is on his father.

 

In relation to the bad choices each of us make he says, “We can come up with all manner of justifications to excuse what we have done. When we are willing to let down our defences and look honestly at our actions.”

 

Throughout the article Archbishop Tutu provides many justifications for his father’s choices, yet when he talks of us acknowledging our own choices, he then says excuses and justifications are not okay. Surely we must be willing to apply that same attitude to our forgiveness of others, as we do to asking for forgiveness?

 

For me, it is through Jesus’ model of giving up power and showing what forgiveness and love truly are I have been able to make the choices I have. My experiences of being set free from the abuse I have suffered and my work in ending male violence against women are all rooted in a deep knowledge that it is through love and forgiveness that we will win the war. In Jesus, we see an all-powerful God, who discovered the only way to save humanity was to give up all His power and become weak, vulnerable and powerless. In Jesus, I discovered it is my weakness that is my greatest gift, not my strength.

 

While patriarchy continues to be a power which destroys lives and incites individuals and systems into worldwide oppression and injustice, it is as we live lives of love and refuse to be manipulated into hatred, as we begin to own the power and privilege we have and recognise the responsibility that gives us to empower those with less power, as we choose to forgive in a way that holds people to account, while believing them capable of change, and challenging the societal issues which disable change, it is as we do these things, that we will see transformation.

 

Dear Marilyn

Dear Marilyn,

 

(I don’t actually know if your name is Marilyn, but I wanted to give you a name, because you’re a person and you matter).

 

I met you on the train tonight.  You sat down next to me and then your partner made you move so he could sit next to you.  I could see him being unkind to you and making you cry.  I saw you try to stand up to him and the way he made you shrink.  I could see him become worse and I saw that other man, Kevin (I’m going to call him Kevin, even though I’m not sure what his real name was…) watch what was going on and stand up and get ready to intervene.  And I got ready to intervene too.

 

And suddenly Kevin was asking your partner if he “was alright mate?” and your partner was telling him to “f*ck off and not get involved.” I stood up and asked you if you were okay.  You said you weren’t and that you were scared and wanted to get away.  I asked you to come and stand with me, but even though you wanted to, your partner wouldn’t let you.  I asked if you wanted me to call the police and you said you did, then your partner was calling me a “f*cking………” and I was ringing the police and stopping the train and your partner was whispering and suddenly you wanted me to stop phoning the police and tried to sort everything out.  I know you were being brave.  I know you were trying to protect yourself and me by calming him down.  I know you were trying your best to make everything okay again.

 

Then we all got off the train and Kevin was really kind to me and didn’t leave until the police arrived.  And your partner was shouting at me, and you were trying to calm him down and telling the police that “it was just talking”.  And I saw your black eye under your make up and I saw how he hurts you.

 

Then the police said you didn’t want to do anything about your partner and I went on a different train home to you and then that was it.

 

Well Marilyn I wanted to tell you that you are really really brave.  That I know you were trying your best to make everything okay.  I’m sorry that when you got home he probably hurt you a lot, and says it’s your fault.  But Marilyn, it’s not your fault.  It’s his fault.  He chose to hurt you and that is not okay.  I know I couldn’t stop him and that the police didn’t arrest him, and that he’s done this to you before.

 

I know you might think I’m a nosy stranger, getting involved in your business and making things worse.  But please, please, please, know that I tried to help because you are so so important.  That you are valuable and worth so much.  Kevin and I didn’t get involved to make your life difficult, we stood up and spoke out to show you what your partner was doing is wrong.  And maybe nobody has ever shown you that before.

 

I know we will probably never see each other again, but I wanted to write to you and tell you that you matter, you’re important and anytime you need me to, I’ll stand up for you again.

 

Love Mrs GLW

Letter from a Pastor; How not to respond to a woman experiencing abuse

The following email was sent by a pastor to a woman who is being abused by her husband.  Her husband has been extremely abusive to her and she is seeking to escape from him.  All names and identifying details have been removed, but the recipient of the email has said she would like people to see the reality of how Church Leaders are unequipped to respond appropriately in cases of abuse.  As you read this email, you may think that some of the pastor’s comments or thoughts are correct.  I would suggest that for a couple struggling with relationship difficulties they might be, but where there is abuse, it is not the relationship that needs dealing with, but rather the abuser.

 
Hi Hannah,

 

I hope you are doing well, despite going through these difficulties in your marriage.  I thought about responding to your last email; the one you sent after another incident with Saul where you called 911, and where afterwards someone gave you some information about not staying with an abusive partner.

 

But to be honest, to me it looked like you had made up your mind and that you yourself are looking for a way out of the marriage.  I don’t know everything that has gone on between the two of you, but I do feel as though I know both of you fairly well in some degree.  I know Saul well enough to know that he is a believer who loves the Lord, and has changed in many ways from the way he was.  However, I also know that he is a work in progress as we all are.  He tries to look at many Scriptures with his Saul’s Way glasses on.  He is certainly not perfect, and he does have his quirks, and inappropriateness, but I also know he is not an aggressive or violent person.  He is stubborn and often pig headed, and doesn’t like to lose an argument, but I can say the exact same thing of many people, including yourself.  I do not believe you are afraid of Saul physically, rather frustrated and tired of how he often goes about things.

 

I also know that you are a believer who loves the Lord, and has had many great experiences in ministry.  However, you too are a work in progress.  You also, like Saul, like to try to look at certain Scriptures, and interpret them to fit what you want.

 

You two are very different people–different cultures, different families, different ways of looking at the Bible, different ideas of what is appropriate.  So many different things.  But something brought you two together.  If you don’t remember, it was your love and passion for our Lord Jesus.  I think you often forget that and focus instead on all the negative things in Saul–his past, his quirks, his inappropriateness.  (Some of these things he can change, and needs to work on changing, but others, like his past, he can’t change, and you simply need to accept, forgive and try to forget.)

 

Hannah, I believe that you need to be honest, and decide whether or not you are committed to this marriage–“in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, so long as you both shall live”.  If you are, then you will try to make things work, rather than always running away (often months at a time) and pointing out the negative, you will need to start working on the strengths and focusing on the positive.  What is going on now cannot help this goal.  Saul is not physical abusive to you.  He can be incredibly frustrating and mentally annoying, but not physically abusive.  And in regards to verbal abuse, in our counselling together, I have witnessed just as much verbal abuse coming from your lips, as I have from his.

 

If you don’t want to be married to Saul anymore, then just be honest and tell him you made a mistake–that you don’t want to be with him.  Don’t try and find loop holes in the Bible for your mistake or lack of commitment.

 

The fact is, Jesus said that the only reason Moses made a concession to allow for divorce, in the case of physical adultery, was because the people’s hearts were hard.  This is not what God intends.  If you are looking for a way out of your marriage, then your heart is not in the right place–it is hard.

 

Now, I know that if you decide to honour your marriage commitment, it will not be easy–nothing worth saving is easy.  It will demand a lot of love, grace, patience, work and sacrifice on both parts. Did I mention grace and patience.  But I believe anything is possible with God.  And I know that God’s will is that you marriage commitment be honoured, worked on, and be something that brings love and joy to both of you.

 

The last thing I want to do is get in the middle of this very dysfunctional marriage again.  But if I can help the both of you, I would consider it an honour, especially if it will bring peace, joy and love to both your lives.  I hope you know that the tone of this letter is one of love and wanting to help a sister and brother in the Lord.

 

 

Blessings and prayers,

 

Pastor Phillip

 

 

(P.S.  I don’t know whether or not you know, but Saul is going in for his major knee surgery on September 13th.  I thought you would want to know so you could be praying for him and his recovery.  Please feel free to reply or call me anytime.

A woman in Costa

Today I was sat tweeting in Costa while my phone charged and suddenly I heard a woman’s voice slightly raised on the table next to me.  I turned to see a man with his back to me and a woman on the other side of the table, talking to him,

 

“You’ve hit me before!  What you want me to stop talking so loud?!  Don’t you think people should know what you’ve done?”

 

Suddenly my entire attention became focused on the table next to me and the interaction of the two people sitting there.  What could I do?  How could I let this woman know that there’s help out there?  That what he’s doing to her is wrong?  I decided to wait, and pray for an opportunity to speak to her.

 

And as I sat there waiting and praying, all I could do was listen to the conversation unfolding next to me.

 

Her: “Why do you keep doing this to me?  You said you’d stop drinking!  You keep doing all these things to me”

 

Him: “I came here expecting you were going to apologise to me, and you’re trying to make it all my fault!”

 

He kept employing the “quiet voice” tactic; keeping his voice low, so she sounds like a hysterical woman to everyone else, while he whispers offensive names and other nasty things under his breath.
Her: “I just want to fix things, I know it’s not always you, it is partly me…”

 

Him: “You’re always making it worse, why do you make it worse…?!”

 

I sat there, praying and asking others on twitter to pray,  that I would have the opportunity to speak to her.  At one point she got up, ready to leave, but he convinced her to sit back down.  I packed up my bag and wrote a note with my name, email, address, phone number and the details of Lundy Bancroft’s book “Why Does He Do That?”

 

She was so articulate and so good at putting across her point.  And yet he constantly undermined her.

 

So I waited and prayed and prayed and waited.  And eventually she stood up to leave.  He stayed sat down and she walked away, I stood up and gave her my note and told her I might be able to help, that she could contact me.  The man stayed sat down and didn’t follow her so I walked down the stairs and said to her,
“I work with domestic abuse, I might be able to help.  My ex-husband was abusive…I’ve written down a book that might help you on that note.”

 

She looked at me and quickly said, “Oh no!  It’s not domestic abuse!  It’s just unresolved issues, that’s all!”  Then she hurried off.

 

I walked towards my train, heartbroken again by the reality of how men can break women so totally, without consequence or challenge.  Painfully aware of how I once was a woman who refused to accept my ex-husband was abusive.  The sadness I felt was heavy and consuming.

 

And yet, even in that pain and sadness, I praised God that I was able to give her some information.  That an opportunity was provided and just maybe this opportunity will enable the woman to move forward.  I will continue to believe there is hope, that she can be restored and freed.

 

I got home, my heart still heavy, and began to read with hope again rising the story of how Carl Beech and Dean Gray had challenged an abusive man on the underground; I was reminded that there are men and women across the UK and beyond challenging violence against women, bringing freedom and hope to women and children.  If each one of us sees every opportunity as a chance to make a difference, we will do just that.  If each one of us doesn’t just stand by when we hear, see or learn of abuse and violence, we will make a difference!

 

I happened to get a text from a friend just now and even though she didn’t know about this situation she had sent me the following verse:

 

“But thanks be to God who gives us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ, therefore my beloved be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” [1 Corinthians 15:57-58]

 

If you pray, please do pray for the woman I met today, let her and any children she has find hope and freedom and for the man who is choosing to continue abusing her to be held accountable and challenged, knowing that nothing we do for God is in vain!