I had an insight dream the other night that vividly showed me the evolution of who I've become since a small child. The fascinating thing about the realizations that arose is that who I've become started as a chain reaction to the fear I experienced growing up as the youngest in a sometimes explosive and chaotic alcoholic family system.
After being invited by Patty Lanier and Lisa Kaplan to lead a meditation for the local One Billion Rising awareness event in Middletown on February 14, 2014 , I did some personal reflection on my history with domestic violence. I wanted to bring my story to the group in a way that could maybe be helpful to others who have experienced violence--sexual or non-sexual. What arose surprised me because I hadn't really reflected on it since my days co-chairing the Domestic Violence Prevention Council in Lake County in 2005.
What I appreciated learning during that tenure as co-chair was that there was absolutely nothing that I can do to elicit an acceptable violent reaction--ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Regardless of how I dress, what words I use, who I choose to see, where I choose to live--none of these choices absolves the perpetrator of violence against me. Period.
I didn't understand this growing up. I was taught that I could dress in a way that would elicit acceptable force against me. Or, I could say something that would justify a smack across the face or a belt to my bottom. What this taught me was how to hold the victim of violence responsible for the violence, when, in fact, it was the perpetrator of the violence that was responsible.
In my family of origin this meant that I held my mom responsible for my dad's abuse of her and us kids. What did she do and why didn't she stop doing it so my dad would stop hurting her? Why didn't she rescue us kids permanently from my dad's drunken outrages? (She ran away--sometimes with us kids--more times than I can count!)
My mom is long gone now. She died way before I became enlightened about the truth of alcoholism in the family and domestic violence. (They don't necessarily go hand-in-hand, by the way.) And so for all her living days, I held an opinion and perspective of holding her responsible for the violent horror that was my childhood. I never got the chance to apologize to her for my misunderstanding--granted our culture itself supports and perpetuates these erroneous beliefs about domestic violence, and I think we all grew up believing these, but I now know better. Can we be held responsible for beliefs we undertake from within the culture? As my friend and colleague Hileri Shand used to say, "When we know better, we have to do better."
In twelve-step recovery circles they talk about making amends for those things you did wrong. Ideally the intention would be to make the amends directly to the person you harmed. But, in those cases where you can't make direct amends, either because they are no longer around, or you may harm them or someone else by doing so (think affairs, etc.), they invite you to make a "living amends." A living amends can take many different forms, but one is to do something in the area of your error that helps others that may have received the same harm by someone else.
As I pulled my thoughts together for the meditation, I empowered them with the intention for it to be a living amends to my mother. To apologize for all those mis-held beliefs about her role as a victim of domestic violence. When I shared this story at the event and then led the group through the loving kindness meditation that included a portion on forgiveness, I realized the significance of this small act in my own healing journey with my mother and my past as tears welled up.
One other thing became clearly renewed in my thinking as well--silence perpetuates the violence. One of the powerful things I learned when working with Adult Children of Alcoholic issues was how the silence helped keep the dysfunction intact. We filed it under "don't air your dirty laundry," but it was so much deeper than that--and it really supported the perpetuation!
Since becoming a public figure, I constantly weigh the impact of my sharing the truth of our family history on the remaining members of my family. While I only have siblings and one aunt left, their experiences in the family may have been quite different than mine. At the same time, there are indisputable facts about events that occurred--the scars that are left, or not, are what remain for opinions, I guess.
I was uplifted to hear a report today on NPR about a new approach in schools called 'restorative justice.' The idea is that rather than have a 'no tolerance' rule on violence, where the students are suspended and the event is never addressed, they now have talking circles with the students involved and the parents of those students--instead of suspensions. The intent is to be open and honest about the incident immediately and restore communication and healing effectively.
This sounds like a great leap forward in our awareness of how to resolve conflicts without violence. As the facilitator of the program said, though, coming from a culture that embraces violent solutions, rather than peace and harmony, it's a difficult task to tow. The good news is that the process is shifting. People are talking, and, as the One Billion Rising campaign insists--no more silence around the violence!
JoAnn Saccato, MA is an author, mindfulness teacher, educator, and consultant in Northern California. She helps her clients and community discover many ways to create the conditions and apply simple tools to companion themselves on a sacred journey, bringing more groundedness, acceptance, clarity, joy, authenticity and values-based responses to life.