Monday, October 17, 2011

Cycle and Culture.

What? An Update?

Not so fast.

Sometimes blogging isn't about the cute thing your baby does, or the amazing craft you just made. (Adam = cute, but infuriating, craft = nonexistent.)  Sometimes it's actually just about writing. I feel like writing about something.

Last night I was woken up around 1:30 by a woman talking. I had no idea if she was in my building, or in one of the several buildings squeezed nearby- we can hear people from all over. I thought she was talking loudly on her cell, but as I woke up and as she got more agitated, I realized that she was fighting with somebody in her apartment. I could hear a man's voice once in a while, but really I could just hear her. She was obviously very young, in her late teens or early twenties. She was very profane. She was very hysterical.

What I couldn't figure out was why they were fighting, or rather why she was fighting. The guy she was fighting with wasn't yelling back like she was. I could hear muffled things he'd say, but really it'd be like "mumble mumble mumble" and then she'd be all "I WORK ALL DAY SO I CAN LEAVE YOU!"

Obviously he wasn't being nice, but really, she was the aggressor. She was screaming at him for about a half hour, not yelling, screaming. Her level of volume and the amount of emotion in her voice reminded me of the scream of what a person just about to hit someone with their car would sound like. It was terrifying.

I lay in bed, just praying for it to stop, when suddenly the fight escalated. He called her family stupid or something and she just lost it. She was just screaming and banging around and then suddenly she stopped for a second and then started up again. "YOU JUST HIT ME! GET READY TO GO TO JAIL!" And I realized that what I was listening to was more sinister than I thought. There was physical violence going on- this was not just a fight- it was domestic abuse. I'd never been near that sort of thing before.

What makes me want to blog about this is not the story itself, but my reaction. As soon as I figured out that this guy had hit her, my first instinct was, "She kind of deserved it." And then my stomach just clenched. Everyone knows that nobody deserves to be abused. That's like the first thing they teach you at college orientation. Not where your classes are, but that if you're abused, it is not your fault. It is never your fault.

When we're taught about abuse, as women, we are told that we might get into an abusive relationship if we're insecure and this charming guy just devotes himself to you suddenly. The after-school specials are all the same: he's great, but maybe a little jealous and then he won't let you go out with your friends and then all of the sudden he beats you up. But don't worry, someone helps you and you are free of that awful man. That could be exactly what was happening to the screaming girl.

But my stomach won't unclench.

I can't absolve her, she simply can't fall into white innocence in my black heart. Have I taken a step backwards? Why can't I sympathize with a person who was a victim of physical abuse? It's been simmering in my mind all day and I think I am beginning to understand, or at least grasp some thread of something I obviously do not understand.

She was an abuser too. Her verbal abuse was so electrifying that it made me shake with fear. This girl was doing something very wrong and there is a puritanical voice in my head that tells me that if you do something wrong, you ought to be punished. When the mystery man hit her, I subconsciously felt like justice had been served. To tell you the truth, I still do. I can't let that knee-jerk reaction go, which brings me the real point of this blog.

I have no understanding of domestic abuse. I've always heard the term "cycle of abuse," but I only understood it at face value: when there's abuse in a home, the people in that home are more likely to be involved in other abusive situations, whether as the victim or the perpetrator. But as much as I think I understand what that means, I can't ever visualize a child who saw a parent getting abused growing up to become an abuser. It just doesn't compute in my brain. Why would someone who faced something terrible force it on someone else? How does that transformation begin? When does the abuser become the bad guy?

I realized that the phrase, "cycle of abuse" isn't completely accurate. It's more than a cycle- it's a culture. That girl had obviously picked it up somewhere that verbal abuse is ok; that guy had learned that it's ok to hit. This can't just be based on past events in their lives- it's a part of them, of the people they're around. Chances are, she will scream again and he will hit again. Who is more wrong? Who deserves to be punished? How do you begin to understand something that features two bad guys? Or is it two good guys? Cycles can be broken- you can slam the brakes- but how do you redefine a culture?

How do I get my stomach unclenched?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sarah,

Your mother didn't abuse me and I tried to be respectful even when sick.

I am so glad that you married Jeff. I knew from the first time I met him that he had been raised in an atmosphere of respect.

You can solve almost any problems in life if you remember to respect each other.

There was a woman in Fairbanks that screamed at her children. I felt so sorry for them because they were so beaten down and I couldn't do anything about it.

I'm glad my grandson has such good parents.

Your Dad

Ashley said...

I'm grateful that you did not grow up in an abusive home. I did; and it's left it's marks. I was all but physically abused; sometimes I wish I was hit instead - wounds heal and you forget physical pain, but, words and screaming echo in your mind forever. Some people don't abuse and others do - it depends on how you heal from it and who you surround yourself with. If you want to ask me more questions, you are welcome to.

the Weights said...

Sarah -- thanks for your thoughts. I've seen that before too, where a woman is just screaming at a guy -- it is sickening to me. We have a family across the street that are all that way -- always screaming. The kids I guess learn that that's how to communicate, but it makes my heart ache, because it will only cause pain later on. I'm grateful for growing up in a safe home... safe from physical, and verbal screaming. I'm glad to still be safe.

Karissa said...

There was the time that I watched a move about abuse(mabye for a class?) and it portrayed a mom screaming at her and it was horrifying. I don't really know why verbal abuse is so downplayed, because it's awful. Abuse makes me so sad. I've had similar thoughts to yours...all I want to do is to stop it. It happens SO much more than people know and it's SO much harder to get out of an abusive relationship than people know. I'm getting sick just thinking about it. How do we stop the culture of abuse? I wish I knew.

Anonymous said...

Sarah,

I read your blog as often as possible. Normally I have no problem saying who I am but this is a rather intimate thing I'm about talk about.

The father of my child came from a very unstable household and I was raised in a very loving one. He saw lots of scary and abusive things happen. He was a victim and target of the abuse as well. I was raised to talk things out, not to scream, never to hit. My parents didn’t hit each other or even spank me.

The father of my child and I used to fight all the time. It was from the beginning of our relationship and it never stopped. At first it was screaming at one another. The type of screaming that makes the neighbors stay up at night.

I stayed with this man throughout my pregnancy. He hit me. I hit him. He screamed at me and I screamed at him. I threw things, smashed things, hurled insults and was downright wrong to him. He did all the same things too. Neither of us was right.

It wasn't until my son was 4 months old that we got into the fight that ended our relationship. It's a long and terrible story and I'll spare you but suffice it to say that it was a life changing event. He frequently physically abused me and did so without much restraint. I could not hurt him physically so I hurled the meanest, most vile, and evil insults his way. We were both abusers. We were both victims.

But the person who suffered the most was my son. He was taken by DCFS and we had to fight with every last bit of ourselves to get him back. It took months of therapy and classes for both of us separate from one another, to gain custody back. It was soul wrenching and heart breaking and it kills me every day to know that my son suffered so much for it.

Only time will tell how badly this has effected him and I hope with all my heart that he does not model his relationships after the one he saw his father and I have. I pray daily that he grows up to be an outstanding boyfriend, husband, and Father. I also pray he meets a woman who is kind, level headed, and decent because it takes two unhealthy people to make these situations what they are.

This is long but Domestic Violence is a deeply sensitive subject to me. I understand the stomach clenching feeling you described. It’s horrible but just know that some of us do change. I know because I have. Please just remember those who scream and fight and hit are usually good people with a ton of problems. Know that there is hope.

Much love.

Sarah said...

Thank you for your poignant and articulate comment. I believe it has already changed many of my perception. Good luck.