I’m going to share with you the number #1 reason why I write about domestic violence, exemplified by this poem:
DESERT STORM, by Penny Field
On the first morning of the first Gulf War, mouth
dry as sand, teeth clenched, feeling my head explode
from last night’s chardonnay, I slipped from the house,
packed the babies into my old car, and drove
as far away as I could get in a day.
Radio reports said that US soldiers
were dropping bombs in a country far away
but the blasts were landing hard on my shoulders
right here, knowing it was all about power
and money. I imagined them all running;
women fleeing with their children, under fire,
burqas flying, clutching little hands, trying
to escape violence. We were all on the run,
refugees, chasing a quickly sinking sun.
Penny is a writer, blogger, and psychotherapist who recently began reading and commenting on my blog. Her own blog is called Progress, Not Perfection–what a great title–and her self-proclaimed mission is to write “about the challenges and triumphs of being human.”
I appreciate encouragement as I write about these difficult topics, but Penny’s comments have always had the added element of validation because, as a practitioner of psychotherapy, she has perhaps a more clinical insight into the trauma healing process than some of my other readers. When I posted “Breaking silence is work,” she commented: “As a therapist who works extensively with abuse survivors, I can tell you that writing like yours does, indeed, help other victims feel less alone and more likely to seek help. As a writer with my own stories that I don’t often share publicly because of my professional role, I’ve been deeply appreciating your open honesty as well as the skill with which you put your experiences into language.” I can’t tell you what that meant to me, and it has nothing to do with her praise for my writing and everything to do with feeling like the sharing might help even one person.
Then this week, Penny shared, as a comment on my call for guest posts and links to writing about DV, the above poem about fleeing an abusive relationship.
In another post last summer, I talked about Skyping with a good friend’s graduate creative nonfiction class. I made these observations, which are even more relevant to me now:
This is why I speak up. I would miss out on these types of connections if I didn’t. I’m not ashamed of what’s happened to me, and I think my lack of shame is somewhat atypical and therefore possibly important to debunking some of the myths about DV.
I want to point to the phenomenon of getting a bunch of people in a room (notably and typically women, but really, anyone who has gone through some crap, who has felt silenced, marginalized, literally or figuratively beaten down), and how it only takes one person sharing something personal and painful, and soon the rest of the group is taking a turn, championing each other, nodding emphatically…it’s so beautiful. People are beautiful sometimes.
This is why I do what I do. It’s not for attention (um), fame (ha), or money (hahaha). It’s for my own healing and so that others might read what I share and feel less alone, the way I felt and feel less alone reading the narratives of DV survivors who made/make it seem safe, possible, important, for me to speak up. I will not in any way take responsibility for Penny’s sharing this ache of a sonnet (that bravery and purpose belongs to her), but I am happy that she felt comfortable doing so on my blog, the safe space I constructed for exactly this reason: so I and others could talk about, among other things, domestic violence.
Penny, thank you. Your poem speaks to me, to the fact that violence is indiscriminate and affects people from all backgrounds and cultures. That despite disparate levels of privilege, there is common ground to be found in the universally human desire to live without fear, to be free and safe, and to protect our children. Some of us escape the violence, flee our homes or even our countries with no certainty about where we will end up. Some of us never escape. Some of us feel like our brains will bomb apart with stress and fear; for others, the bombs are literal. Many of us feel objectified, dehumanized, “othered.” Disconnected.
Yesterday in a Facebook thread, I read the phrase “fight and inform.” I should have taken a screen shot so I could credit the woman who said it, because it feels like a mantra or mission statement for this work. Anyone who makes art out of their most complex and personal experiences, out of their traumas, is fighting and informing. One person’s healing can be, can lead to, collective healing. One person’s courage can incite complete strangers to break silence.
I hope you will read, share, and comment on Penny’s poem. What courage, to try to connect.
This is why.