I have been struggling with a class conversation on domestic violence and whether to speak up when you see someone being victimized. My frustration comes from many places. Beginning on a personal level, I was in a domestic violence relationship for many years and one of the (many) reasons I stayed was feeling like I had no support because no one seemed to notice the way my husband undercut my thoughts and feelings by the way he spoke to me, or about me to others, or that I was often upset and stressed. At the time, I didn’t know how to reach out, or how it would be received if I did? After all, my (then) husband was often the fun, life of the party guy. My family seemed to love him and seemed to look past his harshness toward me, but then again he also treated me like a princess at times. Of course, my family has its own dysfunctional system in place. Did no one ever question why I was forced to take car rides and then came back puffy eyed and broken? I remember feeling hopeless when no one seemed to notice, and that hopelessness kept me isolated and questioning my own sanity. I was slowing drowning and didn’t know how to swim. Basically, I was in a frantic doggie paddle trying to stay afloat and still try to be a good mom. Would I have listened if someone spoke up and said “you deserve to be treated better” or better yet to my husband “your treatment is unacceptable?” I don’t know. But what I do know is a seed can be planted when someone steps up and speaks out. I can close my eyes and clearly remember a scenario in which a stranger spoke up on my, and my children’s behalf. It was at a gas station and my (then) husband was screaming at the attendant because of some perceived slight. The children and I were in the van and could see this interaction taking place. My (then) husband came to the van yelling about “how dare this idiot, lowly gas station clerk not give him paper towels” and when I asked my (then) husband to calm down his rage was directed at me. The attendant came over and asked me if the children and I were ok, and explained that he was worried about our safety. I, of course, said we would be fine but was, as always, inwardly not so certain. Long story short: this man’s simple, but powerful gesture, planted a seed in my head that not everyone thought my (then) husbands behavior was ok. This of course is the very short snippet of a very long battle of coming to terms of my situation. But my issue is, as a social worker, I feel it should be my duty to speak out and step in when I see this happening in public. I understand that speaking out can endanger myself and that of the victim, however, the victim is already in danger and has most likely lived through much worse than what is being publicly displayed. I don’t think domestic violence is going to be eradicated until people begin to stand up and declare, “No more! This is unacceptable!” That means within our families and in public. Apathy does nothing to promote change, and as a social worker and as a human being, I demand better and work hard at being an agent for change. I am working to educate myself so that I may interject in a manner that can be effective, but I refuse to remain silent. Silence can be deafening, and is just another way to re-victimize.
As I sat in my biology class today feeling smaller and smaller, virtually shrinking in size with each obscure concept delivered in the lecture, I had a choice to make… walk out and quit, wait it out and cry in the car, or listen intently and ask questions. Which did I choose? You are probably guessing I was brave and asked a million questions, but truth be told, I listened, waited, and cried in the car. I have to admit, that going back to school in my mid 40’s has been a bit daunting, definitely scary, but oh so worthwhile. The knowledge I have gained about myself has been life changing in many ways, but fear still has a nasty way of penetrating over and over again, just to test my mettle.
Back to biology…it has been a few years (ok, maybe a few decades) since I have even considered an atom, or molecule or anything that may be related to such things so I am a little fuzzy, or better yet, befuddled. As my head spins, I fight the urge to scream and run and try to excerpt something from the lecture that will help me with my inevitable lab report. A few short meditative breaths later, I do pick up some of the lecture and scribble furious notes that may be of use later if I am able to decipher the chicken scratch.
What have I learned?
That it is extremely difficult to overcome old fears (math and science).
That it is ok to admit you are overwhelmed.
That it is ok to not get an “A” in every class.
That speaking to the professor and explaining your conundrum is wise (usually).
That fear is often irrational (unless you are being chased by a bear, or the like)
and a way to excuse yourself from trying.
That if you just get a goodnight sleep, tomorrow will look brighter and science will still be hard, but doable.