Paolo Coelho says it….(or something like it)….(and so does Leonard Cohen)….
‘Wear your scars like medals’.
I read it, digested it and it keeps coming back to me, one of those lines your subconscious stores in the ‘easily accessible’ file that gets opened regularly, flashing you its contents, urging you to ponder a little more deeply on its significance for you and your life.
“Wear my scars like medals”. OK, I think. OK.
I’m a veteran when it comes to scars, wouldn’t have enough space on my shoulder to fit them all if they were turned in to medals. Ones for bravery. Ones for resilience. For keeping my head when ‘all about me were losing theirs’. For strength. And, also, for most tears cried in vain. And for ability to sustain prolonged longing for a different life…..let’s just say, there’d be a lot of them.
What use scars? What use medals?
I’ve come to realise that domestic violence is everywhere, a silent plague that blights the lives of millions. A curse on many people’s homes and lives and loves.
You see the campaigns, you see the posters and the helplines, you read the stories but, until you’ve been on the receiving end, all of that passes you by….because you’re busy, you’ve got a million other things to do and, anyway, you’re not being beaten, your husband/partner is loving and doesn’t treat you badly….so it doesn’t concern you. You file those images to the back of your mind (definitely not in the file that gets opened regularly).
But – I’ve decided I’m going to argue – even if your door isn’t darkened by it, domestic violence does affect us all. It speaks volumes about the society in which we live if women like myself are terrified of reporting domestic violence, so much so that they don’t report the violence when they should do and, instead, wait to report it until it’s happened an average of 77 times. Each time probably slightly worse than the time before, culminating in a crescendo so frightening, they’re left with no option but to do something if they want to stay alive.
Many women never get a chance to report the violence because they’re killed before they do. Or they report it and are intimidated in to withdrawing their report. Or they’re brave enough to go to trial and don’t receive justice due to ‘a technicality’ or x, y, z reason. [It’s estimated that only 1.5% of domestic violence episodes ever receive the proper justice].
What kind of society do we live in when women – mothers – are treated in this way?
I’ve had close friends tell me they don’t believe me, had friends ask me what I did to provoke it, had friends ask me how I could have stayed, have allowed that to happen to my children….
These are friends. Who know me and who, I thought, loved me.
When people you know have these reactions (when you’ve plucked up the courage to tell them – after months of trying to do it), it’s easy to see why society as a whole holds these views….
Domestic violence is shameful for those experiencing it. [So it’s not talked about]
Domestic violence is also deeply misunderstood. [So when it is talked about, it’s not talked about constructively or usefully].
In our case, for example, we’ve been seen by around 30 professionals over the past two years (nearly two years). I’d say there are two of them who really cared about their work and really gave a monkeys about us and what’s happening to us. The others? You can see it in their eyes: ‘not another’, ‘OMG, she’s been abused?’, ‘yeah, yeah…heard it a million times’….yada yada yada…..
A woman who’s been abused is vulnerable, she’s hurting (inside far, far more than outside), she’s ashamed, she feels dirty, exposed, sick, she’s probably feeling like she doesn’t want to be touched by anyone, probably feeling she’s been stripped down to her core and feels more naked than she’s ever done, more alone than ever.
She needs help. Compassion. Attempts at understanding.
If she’s talking, I guarantee it’s because she’s reached the end of the line. She can’t take it any more. She’s made a bid to get out of a situation that’s dangerous to get out of.
She should be congratulated. Supported.
Treated with tenderness. Be listened to, carefully.
She’s like a little bird who’s just fallen out of her nest. No idea where it is, how to get back, no idea where her next meal’s coming from. No idea what’s up or what’s down, her whole life shaken all about.
She’ll reach a stage, though, when she needs to tell her story. That should be facilitated, because it’s this that’ll start the rebuilding process.
Give her a way to get it all out of her system and she’ll find her own way to recover.
What she doesn’t need is judgements, opinions….believe me, she’ll have gone through every scenario, every possibility, every nuance of the situation in her head, hundreds, possibly thousands of times. She’ll have thought of every possible outcome of every possible move on her part, and she’ll only have moved, only have acted to move out of the situation when a special set of circumstances aligned.
To judge her, to form an opinion of her is to belittle her skill and success at having been able to leave, to report it. She’s navigated potentially lethal waters single-handedly, avoided being killed (many times narrowly).
She doesn’t need your opinions.
She doesn’t need being made to feel small (she feels small enough already, thank you).
She doesn’t need your judgements.
She deserves your respect.
Perhaps, actually, that’s what’s wrong with these domestic abuse campaigns? They portray the women as victims. Yes, in a sense they are victims: of men who’re unable to control themselves.
Ultimately, however, these women who’ve managed to escape domestic violence, they’re more akin to heroes.
Heroes of their own stories. Brave women who’ve decided ‘Enough’s enough’ and who’ve charged right in to the heart of the battle, the heart of their fear, in order to be able to get out, to be able to once again own their lives, their stories.
Joan of Arcs, all of them.
Want to help a victim of domestic violence? Support them as they need it until they’re strong enough to hold their head high again. Until they’ve worked through the shame and they’re at the stage where they can wear their scars as medals. Then let them wear these medals with pride.
It’s not shameful to have escaped domestic violence: it takes a level of bravery few could comprehend let alone understand.
Experiencing domestic violence only becomes shameful if you’re made to feel like you’re a victim (Hello social worker who really can’t be bothered, Mrs ‘looking at me like ‘It’s late on Friday afternoon and I’m meeting friends for a drink in 30 minutes, get a move on, Helen, I have a life, you know”).
People who’ve lived to tell their truths about domestic violence aren’t victims.
Survivors with scars.
Scars that speak their stories.
Scars that should be worn like medals.
Anyone who wears a medal isn’t a victim: they’re a hero.
Here’s to the millions of heroes the world over.
Wear your medals with pride: you’re a hero.
Those medals tell stories of levels of bravery and courage, of cruelty and inhumanity, that few could withstand, of lives shattered and rebuilt, of hardships very very few hard-working Westerners have to endure, of women who should be celebrated, helped, patted on the back.
Here’s to the very many brave ones.
The everyday neighbourhood heroes.