October 1st marks the kick off of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Some will wear purple, some will donate items to shelters, Take Back the Night will appear at college campuses, as will the Silent Witnesses.
I spent October 1st curled up at the end of a hospital bed, listening and talking with a domestic violence survivor.
I’ve mentioned her before in previous posts; she is the victim I call Sarah. She is, by far, the most intelligent woman I’ve ever known. She is beautiful, strong, well educated, a loving mother, a fierce feminist and advocate for women, and a dear, dear friend.
Over the last few years, her husband has abused her horribly. One incident, a few months ago, could have easily killed her. She survived it, by the grace of god.
She’s also an alcoholic. Drinking has been her coping mechanism for far too long, and with stress levels that have caused PTSD, she’s self-medicated with the bottle.
And then, last week, she suddenly realized she was going to die, one way or another, if she didn’t get help. Whether it would be the abuser that kills her or the alcohol she’s used to cope, pick your poison – both had proved deadly.
With the support of family and friends, she checked herself into detox and will soon transfer over to a rehabilitation program to address her alcoholism. Like any alcoholic or addict, she has good days and bad days. Like any domestic violence victim, she questions whether she should stay or go a few hundred times a day.
This is where we hit the unchartered waters.
You see, what you do and say to a domestic violence victim is in direct conflict of what you do and say to an addict at this crucial point; at least, according to the research that is published here in the sunshine state.
The Florida Coalition against Domestic Violence believes in the empowerment based model and therefore, believes that we should empower an individual to do “what’s best for herself or her children.” Basically, we support a victim or survivor for however long it takes. We never tell a domestic violence victim that she MUST leave the relationship; we never cut them off from support. We are here for them, no matter how long it takes for them to decide to leave. And, in theory, it can work.
Years ago, another friend of mine was dealing with domestic violence. After one of the more violent fights that left her with two black eyes and contusions to the back of her head, I went to see her. As we spoke, she told me I was one of the view friends she could turn to. It wasn’t because of anything I did or said, it was simply because I was still there. Most of her friends didn’t want to “hear about the drama” anymore. They told her, “I can’t watch you go through this, so call me when you’re really going to be done.” Every time she went back, she had to cross off the name of a friend that would no longer support her.
Only because I knew how dangerous this could be, did I not say the same. If I abandoned her, the only person she’d have left is the abuser. He becomes her only ally as well as the source of her pain. Instead, I was patient, listened, and waited it out. Every single time she left, she could stay with me. Every single time she went back, I told her I hoped it was better. I understand that, to some, this seems like it won’t work. The truth is, a survivor has already been controlled and manipulated by her abuser – she doesn’t need it from a friend. She will, when she’s ready, make the difficult choice to leave. And, until she does, she needs all the love and support she can get (and maybe some gentle, gentle encouragement).
Eventually, that friend did leave her abuser and she’s now happy, fulfilled, and living a rather good life.
On the other hand, years ago I had a friend that was addicted to drugs. I knew almost nothing about substance abuse and thus, reached out to experts for help. I was told some interesting things, especially about boundaries. For example, because this friend was deep into their addiction, it was recommended that I not listen to them complain about their lives and the consequences of their addiction until he was ready to get help. His family was told to help provide the “rock bottom” he needed to get help by cutting him off financially, threatening to call DCF, and the like.
Do you notice the problem then?
How we need to support a domestic violence survivor and how we need to support an addict/alcoholic are in direct conflict.
The Mexico fatality review study documented that a third of female victims had alcohol in their system at the time of autopsy, with a blood alcohol content of twice the legal limit.
Among women treated in emergency rooms for injuries caused by their abusers, those who suffered from substance abuse had increased risk of violence from partners.
Another hospital study found that victims injured by partners were more likely than other injured women in emergency rooms to test positive for substance abuse.
I don’t need to tell you about the link between domestic violence and addiction. You know it if you’ve read this blog. It’s there, no matter how uncomfortable it is to talk about.
Those that are in abusive relationships AND are battling out addiction face uncharted waters. Experts in both fields recommend the opposite approach. Because the FCADV seems to not acknowledge the link, it’s very difficult to get real advice or help on the subject.
The truth is, I’m doing the best I can. But, until Florida catches up with the real needs of victims, I’m just hoping I’m doing what’s best.
I try to walk the rope between encouraging and empowering, and at the same time speak truthfully of the need for sobriety. She’s in a dangerous situation on both ends. Her family looks to me for advice, after all.. I’m the domestic violence advocate. Yet, my training doesn’t prepare me for this. My training in Florida is to empower her and believe that if we remove the abuser than she’ll naturally not want to drink. I’ll let you consider how ridiculous this notion is when it comes to addiction.
So, I didn’t wear a shred of purple. I didn’t post a meme. I sat on a hospital bed and listened. I hope I helped. It would be nice if the FCADV, the organization in charge with helping survivors in Florida, could provide any real advice.