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(how to save) a life

A few weeks ago, one of my sisters sent me a string of loving texts. We share such strings often just because, but these particular texts were inspired by a Facebook memory. 

Facebook had just reminded her of a post she wrote for my blog four years ago. In one post, “The Gift of Fear,” I wrote about how the book The Gift of Fear might have saved her life. A few weeks later, in “Her Escape, Her Words,” she wrote about the journey as she’d taken it.

I reread both posts after she texted. Her post filled me with joy; she not only escaped, but has come to flourish here in SoCal. I am so freakin’ proud of her and how she makes choices to protect herself and enable herself to thrive.

My own post, though, left a pit in my stomach. When I’d written it, I’d almost completely failed to grasp how deeply systemic features–which I’d call “flaws,” were they not parts of systems designed to protect some few at the expense of many others–conspire against abused partners. I’d said, “You deserve better!” as a strictly individual initiative, without understanding just how much U.S. systems neither broadly support nor encourage that. To escape successfully requires not only defiance but faith (which can’t come easy when you live your life in fear, an island surrounded by thousands of people who don’t appear to notice your suffering) and–here’s where it really falls apart–resources, be they time, money, or social.

When she came over and sat on the stinky old couch that had served for six weeks as her bed, I explained my remorse. I told her I was so damn glad she’d escaped, but that I also feel such deep remorse how few women have resources to successfully make the escape. How miserable it is that life-or-death matters should come down to who you know, and who you know will have your back no matter what.

A system that “works” like that is a terrible, no-good system.

And yet, I explained, it doesn’t mean I’m not enduringly grateful for The Gift of Fear. Far from it! The fact there’s a book that can help guide some women to escape, and to understand it’s even possible, is a book well worth keeping spare copies to hand out (as I do). Better still, the fact that the same book helps inform other women–and men–how to avoid creeps who only seem charming makes it priceless. 

With all this joy and outrage still churning in my heart over the weekend, I searched for podcasts including Gift‘s author, Gavin de Becker. I was delighted to find a two-parter.

If you’d like to get better at trusting your instincts and making them trustworthy, these are for you. Thanks to this podcast, you needn’t read the book to learn some of its most important lessons. 

You can find part one here. Part two is here.

Such lessons might have saved my sister’s life. Sure, they might not be enough to save everyone, everywhere, given American systemic biases for the strong and against the struggling … but I’m here to tell you how beautiful it is, from the outside, to watch that one life grow.

Learning from Suffering

Christmas was even more special with a black eye

Christmas was even more special with a black eye

I grew up with both violence and denial. Denial aggravated me far more than violence.

Violence came and went. It happened because it happened. Parents were sometimes cruel, and then the kids they violated often learned to be cruel, too.

Denial, on the other hand, screamed, “I have the luxury of pretending what happened to you could not happen to me! Therefore, it happened because there was something uniquely terrible and deserving about you!”

Yeah. Sure.

The violence I endured as a child taught me to trust my instincts.

When a “charming” acquaintance made my skin crawl, I told my friends. They said I didn’t give him enough credit.

They were shocked when he committed murder-suicide. I was shocked, but not surprised. I’d lived with violence long enough to identify the subtle indicators others could simply choose to ignore. The little red flags he displayed didn’t even register for 99% of the people around me, none of whom–otherwise–themselves presented a single red flag.

When one of my sisters was at risk, I knew it because of how her communication changed. She didn’t have to tell me much for some part of me to cry out, “Alert! Alert! Alert!” even before she first told me he’d attacked her. I identified the risk before I could express it well.

When she called me about a later attack, I’d just finished reading security expert Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear. I had vocabulary to show her the risk I saw. From the book, I read her a list of danger signs displayed by a partner. She told me her boyfriend had “done at least 25 of those things” and, thank God, packed up and drove more than a thousand miles south to begin a new life here in SoCal.

Had she stayed, she might not have survived.

When a neighbor told my son what to do, speaking over me to command Li’l D against my wishes, I trusted my instincts … and Gavin de Becker’s Protecting the Gift. I said no and ended the conversation. My neighbor’s aggressive reaction to this affirmed how right I am not only to trust my instincts, but to teach my sons to trust theirs.

Many times before now, I’ve told you I will not perpetuate violence by my denial.

All the same, I wanted to shove my intuition aside in 2016 when it screamed, “Your representatives don’t represent you!” Instead, because I committed to never perpetuate denial at others’ expense, I researched. Once again, I discovered my instincts had guided me well. They uncovered truths logic alone would’ve kept concealed.

Despite everything I’d learned in youth, I’d been taken. I’d had no idea that the predatory tactics of pedophiles could be adopted en masse by politicians. I’d never have even had cause to suspect, had I not grown up in such mayhem.

Read more…

“How are you raising him?!”

My Friday evening took a scary, unexpected turn when a neighbor intercepted my son and me on our porch. “Come here,” he told my three-year-old son, Li’l D. Li’l D hid behind my legs.

Conversations with this neighbor had been friendly to date, so I smiled and said, “Nope. That’s not likely to happen. He saw a cricket on the door, and he’s convinced all bugs are out to get him!”

My neighbor ignored me, instead addressing my son again. “I told you to come here.” He held out his hand and said, “Come here and take my hand.”

Bemused by the weird turn of the conversation, I said, “No. I don’t believe in forcing kids to respond to adults, even close friends. It’s important training for them learning to trust their instincts.”

Again my neighbor ignored me and demanded my son respond to him. Li’l D planted himself more firmly behind my legs. Again, more vehemently, I said, “No.”

“How are you raising him?!” my neighbor demanded, finally addressing me. Read more…

Her Escape, Her Words

One month ago, I wrote about someone close to me who had just escaped an abusive relationship, thanks in part to wisdom gleaned from the pages of The Gift of Fear.

Then I bought de Becker's other books.

Today I wanted you to see how she is already growing and thriving in her new SoCal life. I imagined writing an update myself, but texted her to see if she’d want to write a part of the post. Did she ever! She wrote not the paragraph or two I anticipated, but an entire post about her recent struggles. I cried reading her words and seeing parts of the story not previously revealed to me, and found redoubled my gratitude she escaped. Read more…

The Gift of Fear

She didn’t tell me his name.

She didn’t tell me what he did for a living, or where he came from.

She tried not to talk about him much at all, which evoked mild curiosity but didn’t alarm me, even though I’d always known her prior boyfriends by no less than name, occupation, hobbies and demeanor.

It was only when my dear friend fell silent for weeks after dating the new guy that I started to feel a niggling sense of worry.

A gregarious, affable extrovert, she’d always been one to text dozens of times a day, and reply instantly to virtually any text message. I often felt guilty for replying so slowly to her texts; it can take me days or even weeks to reply to a single message.

When she failed to reply to several text messages over a few-week period, I started to worry. I texted her: I get nervous when you fall silent.

She wrote back that she’d moved several hours north of our hometown. When I read him her text message, my fiancee, Anthony, said, “She’s moving the wrong direction! She should be moving down here with us.” I said she’d probably moved with her boyfriend, versus moving just for fun, but relayed his message to her. She confirmed that she’d moved with her boyfriend, whose name I still didn’t know.

I thought, abusers try to isolate their partners. I promptly squashed the thought as the byproduct of an overactive imagination. She hadn’t said anything was wrong, apart from a mild case of moving blues.

My mama and me

Most my mom’s cuts and bruises weren’t from accidents, which impacts my relationship assessments

A few weeks later, my friend called and told me her boyfriend had assaulted her. She was shocked and shaken, but had quickly arranged alternative lodging for herself.

“You should leave,” I told her. “I think it’s dangerous for you to stay. You can come stay with us for a little.” I coordinated parts of her departure with her, but worried she wouldn’t leave. It’s often much easier to continue enduring known hardship than embrace the idea of enduring unknown, unquantifiable hardships. Indeed, the human imagination for possible woes is endless, so that the unknown can end up seeming much more threatening than painful situations we’ve already shown ourselves we can survive.

When my friend called me a couple of days later and said she’d probably overreacted, I stressed that I didn’t feel she had. Still, she was determined to stay and prove she was strong enough to make a home in her new locale, with or without her boyfriend. Read more…

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