There can never be enough said about Domestic Violence. Ever.
And we have all seen the movies. And read the email forwards. And seen the afternoon TV specials.
And many of us, most of us probably, have or will at some point come face to face with Domestic Violence.
Maybe as an abuser, maybe as the abused – although chances are you won’t recognize yourself in either of those roles for a very, very long time. If ever.
And then there is the rest of us.
As men, we are repulsed and angry. We cannot understand the cowardliness that would allow you to hit a woman. We cannot fathom bullying. We simply cannot imagine how you cannot look at her and want to protect her, not only because it is right but because that is your job.
As women, we cannot understand what the hell could make you so blind. We cannot fathom why you would try to make excuses. We simply cannot imagine ever walking in your shoes, and not walking away.
I have been among The Watchers more than once in my life. I have watched as someone I love was broken down either emotionally or physically. I have clung to them when they called for me, desperately reaching for a way out. I have conspired and plotted and planned and organized with them.
And I have stood by helplessly when they went back.
I’ve listened to the explanations. About how there isn’t another way. About how they really aren’t that bad. About how, “I really brought it on myself in the first place.” About how, if you care about me you will support me no matter what.
The thing is, something inside of you dies after awhile. Or at least, it did for me. I could only stand to be The Watcher for so long before I had to shut myself off from it.
I wanted so desperately to help. And I did, I did help!
And it didn’t matter. And it wasn’t enough.
And it would never, ever be enough.
Somewhere along the way, my compassion was replaced with anger. And resentment. And bitterness. My pity and fear and sympathy and worry were replaced with contempt. The helplessness I felt from not being able to help was too much, and I had to turn my focus toward the fact that they didn’t want to help themselves anyway. I could no longer offer understanding, because it was safer for me to think of them as weak.
When I hear about your common place, garden variety Domestic Violence now (you know, the stuff that doesn’t make the news, or the court papers, but that any rational person knows shouldn’t happen), my whole face gets hot. I can feel the anger and the bitterness rising from the pit of my stomach up through the back of my throat.
I want to scream at society for letting this crap happen. I want to close my eyes tight enough that I can pretend that things are not still this way. I want to push it all away, far away from me so that I can no longer be touched by that world.
I want to shake the shit out of the woman who stays. I want to shake her so hard that she hears me, that she sees how much pain this causes everyone!
I want to shut off the part of me that hurts.
I know it’s not the expected response. I know it’s selfish. And unfair. And unkind. I know I’m supposed to run to the aid of The Victim.
But what I see is The Watchers. The Rescuers. The White Knights who are running so boldly into the fray, smack dab into the middle of a battle that I already know will wound them.
It’s them that I want to hold. It’s them that I want to warn. I want to tell them to run away. To give up now before their hearts are permanently hardened. I want to tell them to guard their compassion, to save up their sympathy, because it will leave them feeling empty and defeated and helpless.
And I want so badly to be able to tell them how to help.
I know the numbers for the Domestic Violence hotlines. I know the classic signs and patterns: isolation, belittling, erosion of self esteem, abuse, remorse, forgiveness.
But there is no number for the watchers. There is no Guide For Helping Those That Do Not Want To Be Helped. There is no healing potion for Granting Sight To Those Who Cannot See. There is no network to heal the failed healers.
And Oh God, there should be.
My mind cannot allow more than a fleeting fantasy of the abused finally breaking free. That is a disappointment I simply cannot survive again. But my heart still allows itself to ache for those I see just beginning on the path of supporter. My instinct is to warn them, to caution them that their efforts will be futile. The overwhelming urge now is no longer to create an escape for the victim, but to shield the rescuer from the cycle. The same cycle that they’re trying to fight, that sucks them in just the same.
That’s the thing about Domestic Abuse. It’s a cycle and it spins in an ever widening circle, sucking more and more victims into the spiral.
The child who survives fear with contempt.
The friend who internalizes the inability to help.
The onlooker who cannot understand why you continue to “bother”.
And once you’re in the spiral, it seems like it is impossible to reverse the direction of the spin. The only way to save yourself is to get out. To stay out. To put distance between yourself and the life threatening suction that threatens to swallow you whole. Again.
All I can say is to the abused, get out. It will never get better. It will get worse. And I hope and pray that someday you see that.
But to the others, to The Watchers, I offer you my utmost respect. And compassion. And a secret desire that you will be able to do what I never could.
*And The Number For The National Domestic Violence Helpline is:
Just, you know, in case…