Friday, February 19, 2016


His violence distorted my thinking. I thought I was some sort of sacrifice, that if I resisted or left, the violence would spill over into the community at large, that I was responsible for protecting the whole citizenry of the town I lived in from what he might do. The voice, a literal voice in my head, said 'Run. Run. Run.' I argued with it. I told it I must stay and keep trying to help. I had no thought for even the immediate future; I knew I was in an untenable situation and that it would only worsen. I stayed a step and a kick from him, watched my exits, kept my eyes low, breathed. There was something almost grand about it - that I was singlehandedly preventing a one man crime wave and I was committed to do it for as long as it took. Meanwhile, my frontal lobe was shutting down.

That is all true. Here is what else is true.

His violence woke up my thinking. I knew from his history that he had done terrible things and was likely to do them again if he had no home and no financial support. I understood that he felt powerless and out of control, and he hated what he was doing to me. My fears for those around me were justified and based on real knowledge. I slipped quickly into an archaic mode of survival thinking, to enable me to survive. I stayed a step and a kick away from him, watched my exits, kept my eyes low, breathed. There was something very conscious about it - pulling myself through minutes, thinking wide and shallow rather than deep and long. Meanwhile, my amygdaloid system arose to protect me and those around me.

A wise friend told me recently that this is just everyday stuff. When she lived with her violent husband, she thought only of her children. She did extraordinary things in order to protect them, and she escaped in order that they may have a life free of violence and terror. Not for herself. Self care and self esteem came much, much later.

Somewhere in your world, if it is not happening to you, it is happening to someone else. A boy of  eight is hiding his little sister under the stairs. A woman is clawing at her husband trying to keep him away from her child. A woman is is cutting her girlfriend down from a hanging attempt, and then holding on to her to stop her taking a crow bar to the next door neighbour's windows. A man is talking to his friend about his own violent past. A woman is on the phone because her ex has taken the gun and headed off threatening to kill.

If you are safe in your bed tonight, it may well not be because of sterling work by the criminal justice system or social services, or thoughtful government policy. It may be because of many, many ordinary people who work in their own lives to do better than is being done to them. It may be because your dad got sober. Or because someone restrained the man who was going to drive off drunk and angry and smash into your car. Or because your mother did extraordinary things to protect you, maybe things you don't even remember. Or even because indigenous activists worked to heal the land so their grandchildren could have clean water. The violence in my life changed my thinking. Changed my brain. This happens all the time.