Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Guest post - dealing with violence

I habitually post a link to my blog postings to various Facebook places and tweet it.  One place I post is a Facebook group called Poly Friends All Over.  One of the comments to my last post was really helpful to me and I asked the author for permission to post it as a comment to my blog posting.  She was kind enough to agree to that.  Unfortunately it exceeds the length of comments.  Fortunately I happen to know the blog author intimately and she (me) was pleased to step-aside and post Felix's comment as a guest blog posting. I hope that this furthers discussion but more I hope it helps someone else like me in this bizarre situation.

From Felix A.:   When do we interfere with partners who are having issues? [link to blog posting]

Wow, that article [touched by violence] actually made my heart pound.

In answer to your question above, I think, as soon as you notice that something is wrong. Abuse and dysfunction flourish in isolation but when those who witness it speak up it can be enormously grounding
for those involved who may have lost sight of what acceptable behaviour is and can provide an avenue for a victim to ask for support without having to initially overcome the shame of admitting it's happening in the first place. So, good for you for speaking up when you did.

As for the questions in the article - how to feel safe again - is there some way to achieve a state of absolute protection. . .trauma is caused by a sense of powerlessness, of lack of control. The unpredictability of this act, in the heart of your home, the place where you should feel safest, committed by someone who you allowed under your roof and considered a friend, has to have shaken the very foundations of your faith in your ability to judge character and foresee the outcomes of situations.

In order to live our lives, we all need to know that we are able to assess risk with a reasonable degree of accuracy. We all learn as we go of course and we all know that the bizarre and unexpected can happen once in a while, but our ability to make decisions - and to feel safe - is predicated on the idea that we can generally predict the possible outcomes of our decisions.

From what I have read here it seems to me that there is no way anyone could have really predicted this.

As I understand it, escalation of domestic violence from verbal abuse to deadly force in one single moment is quite rare. As someone who has experienced domestic violence I'm sure that you're keenly aware of the patterns and dynamics of that type of relationship and if there had been clear indications that the situation was becoming physically unsafe it's likely that you would have picked up on them. However, whatever the actual chances of such a sudden escalation may be, it happens, it happened, and statistics are rarely comforting.

The fear and apprehension that you feel now is a natural reaction, not only to the horror and proximity of the event, but to having your worldview shaken. The mental replaying of events, searching for foreshadowing that may have been overlooked or actions on your part that could have prevented this, is your mind's way of reintegrating your worldview. It will run its course.There may be some wisdom gleaned from it which you can apply to future situations, and that would be empowering, or you may find that - in your own considered evaluation - you did everything right. That you did everything you could, everything that you are willing to expect of yourself or anyone else in such a situation.

You will feel safe again. At first once in a while, then later, most of the time. You are safer now than you were the day before the shooting - but you didn't know that - and from there springs your apprehension.

There maybe a time of reevaluating your loyalty to people versus your willingness to be in proximity to volatile relationships, for it is true that there is a greater risk of interpersonal violence in such relationships, but where to draw the line? Where to find the balance between safety and compassion? There are two risks to be assessed here. There always are. One is of the all possible perils that come from without, the other is of the risk of making a prison of fear, of locking the doors of your house and your heart so tight that neither joy nor sorrow may enter. Every soul must trade these things off against each other and because of that there is no absolute protection. Even if absolute physical safety could be somehow assured, it would come at the price of never really living.

I don't know where you will find your balance between these things, but I do know that you will find it. I also know that it will always be changing and evolving, and always has been, it's just that right now you are acutely aware of it.

But that's the long view. Right now fear is keeping you up at night. This is again, perfectly natural. You have been through trauma and your body is probably still full of stress hormones, who wouldn't be jumpy? But also, who wants to live in fear?

I could tell you that this is a time to be very gentle with yourself - and it is. I could tell you that eventually the fear will fade as you process your trauma and life moves on - and it will, if simply allowing time to wear it away is what you choose to do.

What I want to tell you however, is how to banish fear. Immediately.

I know it can be done as I have done it, in a situation which had some similarities to your own. The trick is to simply refuse to feel it. I don't mean suppress it and refuse to acknowledge it. I don't mean distract yourself or run from it. I mean face it full on and blow it right out of the doors of your soul.

It is done like this: To grow so weary of its ugly presence in your life, or so pissed off that such a thing dare haunt you, especially at a time like this, that there comes a moment when you simply say no. No to its dark, dank, energy clinging around you and suppressing the brightness of your being. No to the unsteady quivering in your chest. No to the tenseness in your shoulders and no to ears constantly straining for the slightest sound out of place. No to even one more moment of being its victim.

Stand and feel how the floor rises up to meet your feet, solid and strong. This is your ground.

Yes, you are vulnerable, but so is everyone else. Yes, people can be dangerous, but so can you. This is not safety, it is acceptance. Acceptance that whatever may come your way, you can deal with it, and you can do so without fear, because you choose to. Know that you cannot control everything that will happen. Yes, it is wise to take precautions. This is not fear, it is reason. They may work or they may not. Do listen to your instincts, a feeling of fear related to an active situation is usually an important signal that there is danger present - but that is a very different thing than fear born of that which is past - that ambiguous and nebulous fear which taints the future moment by moment.Cast it out. It has no place within you.

Feel your shoulders and spine relax, feel your breath come easily.

Know that this, this decision, the ability to refuse to be afraid, is always and ultimately within your control.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

touched by violence

The response around the world to the mass shooting in Newton, Conneticut has been interesting as people express shock and retrospective analysis of the causes and effects of various things from mental health issues, pharmaceutical use and gun control.  The media coverage of these kind of events gives one a sense of intimacy to the carnage and a rather depressing impression that random violence is more common these days than it every once was.

I'm not sure whether it is more common or we just hear about it more in our age of facebooking and tweeting about everything from life events to bowel movements.  I'm also not sure regulating  guns  with more restrictions and now the suggestion of putting armed guards in every school in the US is the solution.  A blanket solution to random sequences of events will not solve all the issues.  The most effective prevention might  have been to interfere when the red flags began to go up on troubled behaviour.

When do we do that and how alert do we need to be of the behaviour and attitudes of our neighbours, friends, co-workers, lovers and family members?  When do we stop being polite and uncomfortably avoiding people who are self-destructive?  When do we understand that it takes very little for their business to become very much our business and that the risk to our own safety is precarious?  Philosophizing about something that happened thousands of miles away is one thing but quite another when it happens in your own backyard.

I live in a large house that has an upper suite and a lower suite.  I live with my two partners and my teenaged son.  A lovely woman, her toddler daughter and my son's girlfriend live in the lower suite.  About a month ago, the woman downstairs reconciled with her boyfriend after several months apart.  Their relationship is quite toxic and they are both alcoholics.  They fought loudly and often.  She lost her job and they broke up in the same week.  During the period where he'd moved out and they were not involved, she straightened up her life and stopped drinking.    She got herself  a new job and was  starting AA.   My son's girlfriend moved in during that time.  The heavy drinking and arguments started again about two weeks ago.   We have been friendly with her and supportive of her desire to change her life around.  I spoke with her about the slamming doors, throwing things and yelling after the last spat about a week ago.  She said they were back in the same rut and she was working with him and her AA sponsor to change that.  I wanted to tell her to give her head a shake and get out of the relationship.  I did say that  two recovering addicts are not going to be able to stay on any wagon.  They need separate sponsors and a lot of support.  We worried about them and her child.  My son's girlfreind would not sleep in the apartment when the boyfriend was over which is when the daughter is at her dad's place.  She couldn't stand the fighting.

You can't make people fix their lives.  They have to want to do it and want to make changes.  You can only suggest, pray and hold their hands when they struggle. Or can you and should you do more?  Where is the line?

Two nights ago, there was a brief argument.  She told him to get out and someone went out onto their porch which is just below our bedroom window.  It was quiet and I snuggled in to go to sleep.  There were two gun shots  and a crash of glass.  She began to scream while I was on the phone to the police.  He may have intended to kill her first but he most definitely shot himself and died.  Five feet below my bedroom window.  Their business was definitely now mine.

I looked out the bedroom window to confirm to the dispatcher that I could see police officers on site so she'd let me hang up the phone.  I saw the lower part of his body and an officer near him.  The look on the officer's face is one I will not soon forget.

Her daughter was at the dad's place.  My son and his girlfriend were away overnight.  The neighbour to the right, heard the argument and was out on his porch having a smoke.  He saw the boyfriend kill himself.  The neighbour on the left and his wife were also on the phone to the police and heard the shots.  The wife had to go to emerg for what the husband thought was a heart attack later that night.

We were interviewed twice by the police and instructed to stay in our home.   During the first statement, she began to scream in a way that made your skin crawl.  I asked the cop interviewing me if that would indicate that he's been pronounced dead.  He said that was most likely the case.   As we waited for a second interview with a tape recorder, we began to try and analyse what had  likely happened by what we'd heard and seen.  After the second interview, the police cars and ambulances left.  The coroner came and went.  We sat up and tried to calm down.  Unfortunately, all we could think of is all the what ifs and ways that this could have gone down differently with more injuries and fatalities.  Retrospective analysis on how we might have interfered and prevented the outcome had moved through the shock to a jumpy sense of being alert to every noise.

Much has happened since then in terms of her grieving behaviour and the trauma sustained by those of us who were unwilling intimates to their business.  Police have been around the property constantly and the couple who own the house have been in contact.  All of us went to work the next day, and found some support in talking with co-workers and debriefing a bit.  We've heard her home but not spoken directly with her.  Victims Services and her friends and family have been surrounding her.  My son and his girlfriend don't feel safe and we are helping them find a place to move in as soon as possible.

While we and this unfortunate couple weren't involved as lovers/partners so not a poly configuration, we were friends and we considered them extended family.  We included them in family and poly group activities in our home and so on.  What happens in a poly relationship configuration when a relationship within that configuration devolves into domestic violence?   There was no abuser in this scenario.  No one was getting beat up and the verbal abuse was mutual.  I didn't realize that there was a gun in the house although I clearly remember comments NOW that indicated that there has been a gun or two in their suite for some time.  It didn't tweak me before.   Do we need to be so involved in other people's habits and issues that we can protect ourselves from the fallout?  How do we do that?  We have safer sex agreements and dating agreements.  Do we need acceptable habits, when to intervene and storage of weapons agreements?

Tragedy touches you and changes you, whether you were standing right there or just heard about it.   My partner says he doesn't know what to feel but I think its that we don't know which emotion to feel first.  We are scared, saddened, angry and aware of what else could have been saved or lost if any one moment had been different.

Tonight I'm grateful for the miracle of being alive and in a peaceful loving family.  I'm grateful for neighbours who share my trauma but worry about us.  I'm grateful for police, paramedics and victims services volunteers who were an amazing team.

I wish that I had insisted on coaching them on how to communicate non-violently as a couple.  I wish that I had hugged them more often and been a real nosey mom figure in their lives.

I wish with all my heart that he is at peace now and she will find closure and healing some day soon. 

I wish that I could shut out the instant replay tape in my head and stop sleeping in alert mode.  I wish that I wasn't sitting up now with the TV on, afraid to go to sleep and be vulnerable.  I  thought my home to be a safe sanctuary which is important to most people but on par with winning a gold medal  for me as I am a former battered wife.  Being exposed to a domestic war zone has triggered so much for me and likely why I interfered with their business as much as I did.  One never knows how much is enough and how much is too much.

The fallout to violence endures long after the shots are fired and impacts all who hear the news.   Is there a way to always protect ourselves and those we love from it or can we only ever minimize the risks and hope for the best?