I may be a little unraveled, like a dress caught in the rip tides of the cold Pacific Ocean, weighed down by sand and coming undone, but I survived. And even if the tide comes in again and tries to drag me back to the cold, dark sea, I will survive. I have learned to swim, I have learned to navigate the currents. If I can just reach God’s hand someday, I will learn to dance on top of the water in celebration of finding the joy beyond the horizon of endurance.
There was a time when I spent my nights watching the moon and moving stars, anxiety rolling me over and over. Then I realized, I could travel with fear or faith, the outcome was always better with faith.
When I looked at my life through the lens of fear, the sun never seemed to rise and the day was a chain of storms, and energy spent trying to control an uncontrollable universe.
When I finally let go and swam, I looked up at the Son, and let the mighty waves carry me to shore. I learned that I arrived at the almost the same destination, filled with joy. In the light of hope and faith, I saw the miracles which had been there all along. I was delighted by the blessings laying scattered on the sandy beach. In the watery reflection of each day, I caught a glimpse of Heaven.
New Testament, Matthew 14
28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
This is the question everyone asks me when they learn I work with survivors of intimate partner violence.
So to answer the question, I have a question for you. Look around you right now, wherever you are and ask yourself, “Would I be willing to leave my partner, home, job, car, possibly children, extended family, and phone today? Right now?
Survivors wrestle with this question and more. Blaming them is not the answer. Maybe the question should be, why do people abuse each other, hit, assault? Maybe the question should be, “Why doesn’t the abuser leave?”
My father Jeffrey was in the 5th grade in the 1940s. Christmas was coming and his class prepared to sing carols at the school Christmas concert.
The teacher stood at the front of the class and told all the children to close their eyes and put their heads down on their desks. She said she was going to walk up and down the rows. If she touched their head, they shouldn’t sing or they would ruin the concert.
Jeffrey listened to the teacher walk and then felt a tap on his head. Jeffrey stopped singing. In fact, Jeffrey almost never sang again.
At every church meeting, his children asked why he didn’t sing. He would tell the story of being asked not to sing and assure us he was terrible.
Finally, Jeffrey was the bishop in his church and sat in front of the congregation weekly. His grown children didn’t just encourage him to try singing, they badgered him. Bravely, Jeffrey did something unusual, he took a risk and sang.
Admittedly, when I heard his first attempts, I wanted to say, “You’re right. Please stop Dad!” But somewhere in his wobbly tones, there was a buttery voice and potential, so we smiled and he continued to sing, every note and every song just a little better than the one before.
No one who hears him today would think he had ever felt so much shame about his voice, that he had been silent for over 40 years.
Brene Brown, the author of “Daring Courageously,” said 85% of adults she interviewed remembered experiencing an event in school which was so shaming it changed their lives forever. 50% of those people shared the shame wounds were around creativity. Brene called these wounds, “Art Scars,” in her podcast with Elizabeth Gilbert on “Big Strong Magic.”
My father had a deep and painful Art Scar. But unlike most of us, he chose to risk being creative and sing. In taking the risk he has healed.
Do you have art scars?
We have learned the human heart and brain are beautiful things, able to change and heal. Trauma survivors, wired for anxiety and stress can rewire their own brains by learning healthy “go to” ways to cope involving creativity and movement. But for many victims the thought of sharing their innermost feelings in a tangible way is terrifying and creates a fear of rejection, inflaming old art scars.
Many years ago the person I loved the most told me my writing and painting were foolish wastes of time for a young mother. Overcome with grief, and believing this older man, I put the toys of my youth away. Gradually something inside me began to grow. It was an unmet need, painfully growing until I recognized the importance of self-care and dusted off my paint brushes.
Writing my book was a wonderful, private experience. I enjoyed every minute of it until I decided to take it to the next level and risk ridicule again by publishing.
I remember filling out the online book submission form and staring at the send button. You could have sliced my fear of rejection with a knife. The triumph was hitting the send button. Success or failure, taking the risk was a moment of healing and personal growth.
Is there a dream, a wish, a creation waiting inside your heart?
Some survivors share their art scars or fear when I talk to them about letting go of addictions and filling their lives with healthy coping skills like writing or artwork. Do you doodle all day, but dream of creating a masterpiece?
Brene Brown went on to say she used to believe there were creative and non-creative people. But after her research, she understood there was no such thing as creative people. She said, “There are just people who use their creativity and people who don’t…unused creativity is not benign.”
Find your inner creator!
It never occurred to my father, even after years of repeating his story, that maybe the tap on his head was just a mean boy sitting next to him playing a prank. If you have ancient art scars, speak as kindly to yourself as you speak to others. Take another look at your story and give it a happy ending.
Displaying your creation is not necessary for healing. The process is powerful enough.
It is my belief we are all children of the greatest creator of all time, our Heavenly Father. Everything we do is worthy of a magnet and space on our own personal refrigerator.
Creating can be a spiritual experience in a lifetime of consuming. Creation is our chance to organize our thoughts and share our feelings in a tangible way.
This week, if you have a buried desire to create, take a risk. Don’t compare your first steps to world class musicians or feel pressured to share your beginning work with anyone who isn’t safe. Safe, as in has your back, will laugh with you if you hit a sour note and cheer you on for your courage.
“1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been physically abused by an intimate partner.” NCADV
As a movement, domestic violence and sexual assault agencies and prevention programs are beginning to see the power and value of survivor stories. The National Domestic Violence Hotline web page reads, “Survivors can find strength and healing in telling their stories to others. Their insight and inspiration can save lives.” But that is not true for an Advocate.
I can never tell the true story; the actual story of advocacy and my work with survivors of intimate partner or sexual violence. As an advocate, if I am doing my job right, I will stay up with you all night, side by side in the hospital or with police, holding you while you cry, see you bruised and bloodied, house you, feed you, comfort you, empower you, go to court with you and then pass you as if you are a stranger when we meet in the grocery store to protect your confidentiality. I will carry your secrets with me to the grave, unless you ask me, in writing, to share the story to benefit you or meet your needs.
As an advocate, I live inside a bubble of confidentiality and am committed to never sharing a single true story with anyone, including my spouse and closest friends. That makes for one short end of the work day conversation.
Friend, “How was work?”
Friend, “What did you do?”
Me, “Can’t say.”
Daily, I am a witness. I sit with survivors at some of the worst moments of their lives and take seriously my sacred duty of witnessing, giving assistance and walking beside a survivor in their journey.
As a survivor, I choose to not tell my story. Telling my personal story would impact my children and extended family. Out of love and appreciation for their innocence, I choose to keep my story safe within my own heart, as do many survivors.
And yet, as a writer and an avid reader, I am converted to the power of a story to change hearts and change the world, to open eyes and to create a movement so powerful it cannot be stopped. I also believe that by never talking about violence, we allow the secrets to continue to give perpetrators safe space to live and abuse. I believe education is important for prevention.
As a child I was molded and influenced by the story of Harriet Tubman who escaped slavery only to return and help others escape at great peril to her. I was in elementary school when I stayed up late, under the covers, reading it by flashlight.
Harriet Tubman was a true advocate for freedom. The domestic violence moment to free victims of intimate partner violence, empower them to survive and find freedom reminds me of Harriet Tubman’s work. Advocates go out in the night, meet victims at prearranged places and drive them away to freedom.
As an advocate, over the years I noticed several issues I wanted to share with the world. I noticed victims often blame themselves and say things like, “It’s my fault. I am not perfect. I hit back.” I have watched law enforcement struggle to decide who to arrest. I also noticed parentified children who took on too much responsibility in an effort to keep the peace in the home, or because the adults were caught up in chaos.
I chose to write Safe House to tell the story of advocacy and survival. By writing a complete fiction, focused on characters and issues, I could share with you what it feels like to advocate for survivors, and what it feels like to live in a toxic environment, where someone else has the power and control, without ever violating confidentiality. I wrote a fiction to bring hope to those who suffer and attention to issues inherent in the work.
It is my hope that you will be so swallowed up by the story in Safe House you will forget the issues and care for the survivors. I hope you cheer for the advocate, worry for the children, laugh with the locals, taste the salt air of the coast and fall into a whole new world, the world of the Advocate.
Are you ready to tell your story? If you are a survivor of domestic or sexual assault, remember, you are not alone. There are advocates worldwide who want to help. Here are some additional resources and survivor stories:
The Story Center: “We create spaces for transforming lives and communities, through the acts of listening to and sharing stories. Since 1993, we have partnered with organizations around the world on projects in StoryWork, digital storytelling, and other forms of digital media production. Our public workshops support individuals in creating and sharing stories.”
North Carolina’s Survivor to Survivor: “Video stories by survivors for survivors: Their mission, “To provide survivors of domestic violence and their loved ones with a web-based, documentary-style resource guide that serves as a visual toolkit of help and resources available in North Carolina.”
Let go… let peace come in foundation: Their mission, “We need nothing short of a sweeping shift in “social consciousness” making it okay to talk about sexual abuse…it’s essential! This is how we will help the children to speak up and this is the way we’ll have adult survivors enter the recovery process to learn how to live again!”