Author Archives: Karma Farmer

Why She Stays

Why She Stays
Why She Stays

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Rather than give statistics and a pep talk about “zero tolerance”, I thought I’d talk about the elephant in the room.  The victim who keeps going back.

If you know anyone who is impacted by domestic violence (and I hope you don’t, but it’s likely you do), you have undoubtedly experienced the sense of helplessness that smothers friends and family of the abused.  You may have helped intervene.  Maybe you’ve provided a safe place.  You may have been there during the humiliating physical exams, police reports, or court proceedings seeking protection.  You’ve likely wiped tears and listened to hours of sobbing, reinforcing that it wasn’t the victim’s fault.  You’ve put on soothing smiles while trying to distract children who have seen too much, heard too much, and can’t quite understand what they’re afraid of.

The one thing you can’t do, can’t comprehend, can’t accept, is why she goes back.  After multiple instances, it’s difficult to remain supportive.  Out of frustration and fear, the victim’s strongest supporters become her biggest critics.

I’ve spent a significant amount of time trying to educate myself on the dynamics that keep the cycle in motion.  When you’re outside looking in, the choice is so crystal clear.  When you’re in the maelstrom, it’s not so easy.  If you love someone who is in an abusive situation, you have experienced the massive relief, bordering on euphoria, when the victim reaches out for help because they are “done”.  You cheer them on as they stand their ground and take steps to move on with their life.  She finally sees herself as others see her:  smart, capable, and so deserving of a better life.  You commit to doing whatever she needs to get a clean start, and you mean it.

It may last a day, a week, a month, 3 months, but you can feel it when she starts to slip.  Her anger and fear is replaced with the anxiety of starting over.  She loses the fire that made her take those steps out the door.  She is tired. Then you sense the danger is returning:  the victim stops talking about the future, communication starts to wane, and pretty soon you realize it’s all back to square one.  She backs away from the people who have supported her initial decision to leave, and surrounds herself with the enablers who are congratulating her for her commitment to her relationship.

It’s hard to accept.  Most people just hold their breath and wait for the next time.  Some people sever the relationship with the victim because they don’t want to be part of it any longer.  Many deride the victim for the decision, creating an even bigger obstacle for them to seek help the next time.

It seems insane.  So, why does she do it?

She stays for the kids.  While it seems insane to people on the outside looking in, she thinks the downside of not having their father around is worse than the occasional outburst.  She doesn’t want him putting the kids in the middle, or, worse, making the kids feel sorry for him because Mommy got him in trouble.  She knows that no matter how poor of a father he may be, if she leaves him, he’ll be worse.  She doesn’t want them to be abandoned.  She doesn’t want them to have a series of new step-mommies, because she knows he won’t be alone for long.  Abusers need to have that relationship to get their fix.

She stays out of sympathy.  Most abusers have enablers around them.  Friends, family, people that have never held the abuser accountable for his actions.  These people work overtime trying to appeal to the victim.  They’ll give her updates about how sorry he is.  Convey messages, letters, gifts, even in the face of violating restraining orders.  Why?  Like her, they believe his lies.  They believe he’s learned his lesson, and is so sorry, and will never ever ever do this again.  He likely plies them with manipulative lies:  “Don’t tell her, but I haven’t slept in 4 days because I can’t stop thinking about her.” The victim, too, may have developed a co-dependent relationship with the abuser.  Codependent relationships may stink to high heaven, but they’re as comfortable as an old pair of slippers.

She stays out of fear. Whether the threats have been against her, the kids, her family, or himself, she believes he’s capable of following through.  The risk is just too great.

She stays because of ego.  This is a tough one to acknowledge, but it’s true.  When the cycle hits the part where he is begging, pleading, promising, saying all the right things, it’s pretty powerful.  He can’t go on without her.  Life without her is meaningless.  What woman doesn’t want to feel that adored?  Of course it’s bull hockey, because if it were true, the pain he caused her the very first time he abused her mentally, emotionally, or physically would have crushed him to the point that he would have immediately gotten the help he needed to never let it happen again.

She stays for security.  The abuser may hold all the cards financially.  He may threaten to take the children away if she leaves.  The truth is, after living in an abusive relationship, it is likely many of the positives in the victim’s life have faded away:  self esteem, friends, family, career.  The victim may not feel capable. She may not feel worthy.  She may be dealing with depression.  She may be afraid of being alone.

She stays out of shame and embarrassment.  The first time, there’s some hope that the abuser really means it when he says “I’m sorry.”  The second time, there’s usually a harsher ultimatum, and the apology is more profuse.  If the victim seems really serious, the abuser pulls out some deep dark secret that explains the abusive tendencies, and swears to get help. As the cycle repeats itself, the victim is humiliated that she ignored the advice from her supporters that was likely hurled at her endlessly every time she went back.  Now, she just feels stupid:  she fell for it again.

She stays because she’s invested. Forty percent of women  who leave an abusive situation will return.  On average, women leave seven times before leaving for good. Why? The investment theory  is a classical analysis that is often used to explain why people do what is so clearly not in their best interest. Simply put, what has already been invested into the relationship, be it emotional, social and/or financial, can be incredibly hard psychologically to give up.  It may seem infinitely easier to stay in a bad situation then to muster the energy and make a change. This explains why people stay: In jobs they hate, cities with no opportunities, with the wrong circle of friends or in an abusive relationship. Where we are may not be good, but it seems easier to coast along rather than put in the considerable effort needed to make a change.

She stays because she loves him.  There may have been happy times, and hope is a powerful thing.  However, this response is typically just a combination of all the other reasons listed.  Of course she loves him, or did at one point, but a genuine love would encourage the victim to stand firm so that the abuser could get healthy.  Statistics show that if she stays, the chances of the abuser actually learning how to stop the abusive behavior are abysmally low.

So what do you do?  There’s no right answer, but the decision should be based on what is healthiest for YOU rather than what the victim’s situation is.  You may cross your fingers and wait for the next time the dysfunction spills over into violence.  You may choose to maintain a relationship with the victim, but not the abuser.  You may decide you need a break from all of it, and step away for a time.  You may have to accept that if the victim goes back, it is with the agreement that she will stay away from you.  Abusers don’t like the people that try to help the victim leave the situation, and will try to convince the victim that their supporters are causing problems in the relationship.

Even if you have to keep your distance for awhile, it’s important that the victim knows that people love her, care about her well being, and that there are resources available to her if she needs them.  Unconditional love is the best thing you can offer.

**While I have used “he” for the abuser, and “she” for the victim, that is only for clarity of communication.  Victims and abusers come in all genders, colors, and religions.**

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE

Please Don’t Fix the Sidewalks

Please Don’t Fix the Sidewalks

I love having any excuse to go to St. Louis.  It is, without doubt, my definition of “home”, even though I moved away 30 years ago.  It’s where I was born and raised, and I am a walking stereotype of a South St. Louis native: I grew up in a little brick house in a blue collar neighborhood, I eat jack salmon and pork steaks, can spot a hoosier a mile away, still scream and shout for my beloved Cardinals, and know that asking someone what high school they went to will tell me almost everything I need to know about them.

So, when I got an email from my East Coast sister (I call her that so as not to confuse her with my St. Louis sister) announcing that her clan would be in St. Louis over the July 4 holiday, I immediately got my Happy Dance on.  While any excuse to go breathe in the comfort of The Lou will do, being able to get together with my siblings is one of my favorite justifications.

 

This visit seemed to be more poignant than most.  That may be due to my funk / midlife crisis / badditude, I’m not sure.  Yes, I’m still wallowing in my mood…my discombobulation….my glass-half-empty phase.   You get the picture.  I’m not spewing sunshine and positive juju over here.

 

As is my norm, I digress…..back to the visit.

 

We packed a lot into this 48 hour fun fest.  A walk down Market to enjoy the throngs of kids playing in the fountains at City Garden, and watching the beautiful horse drawn carriages give their fares an unforgettable view of downtown.  Strolled through Soulard early on Saturday morning (which is the optimum time to go, of course) while snacking on the best mini donuts ever.  Watched the parade down Market Street that kicks off Fair St. Louis.  Visited City Museum, and enjoyed the added attraction of a huge Hindu wedding that was being held there….watching children in beautifully elaborate clothes sneak away to go flying down a 2 story metal slide kept us entertained for a good half hour.  An evening with friends from grade school at a local bar…..and a not-so-subtle reminder of how quickly we’re aging as we abandoned ship when the alternative rock band started to blow our eardrums out. (The lead singer had a decent voice, though, so I might try to find an online recording by Butterfly Distortion…and listen to it on low volume before passing judgment)  A movie at the OmniMax, which is a domed screen (roof), and made me kind of queasy.  Pizza at Imo’s.  A drive through Tower Grove and Forest Park.  Dinner with my family at Bartolino’s.  An air show while sprawled on the Market Street green way.

 

It was all of those things and yet none of them that made this trip special.  It was walking along jagged sidewalks, the giant slabs of concrete having been rearranged by the roots of the massive trees that grow along the street.  It was driving down Loughborough and taking in the giant sycamores, a tree that doesn’t seem to show up in other cities very often.  It was the literal sea of Cardinals gear, even though there was no game at Busch Stadium.  It was opening the door to our hotel room in the morning to find a St. Louis Post Dispatch greeting me.  It was knowing before I even put my dimes in the parking meter at Soulard that if I wanted a watermelon, the best ones come from the vendor on the NW corner of the market.

 

For some crazy reason (blame the aforementioned funk / midlife crisis / badditude), those things comfort me.  They have existed for as long as I can remember, and I can count on them.  They remind me that no matter what changes in life, some things will persevere, survive, withstand….even flourish.  Inbev may have bought the AB empire, but those big ol’ horses in the parade?  Those were the Anheuser Busch Clydesdales, my friends, and they always will be. At a time in my life when so many aspects of my belief system are being challenged, listening to that vendor barking about having the sweetest watermelons is like being wrapped in a warm blanket.

 

I hope my own roots go as deep as the ones that have mangled those city sidewalks.  I hope they keep me standing straight and tall when push comes to shove.

 

Mostly, I hope I get past the point in my life when I’m trying to gain perspective and inner strength by comparing myself to an old tree.

 

Raging

Raging

So, you know those days when you just want to throw your hands up and say “F*@% it”?  That’s been me for the past couple of weeks.  There have been a series of events, some professional, some personal, and some societal, that have resulted in a loss of my generally optimistic and trusting nature*.

*This statement may, quite possibly, be sarcastic.

Bear with me while I give you some background, before I get to the real point of this post.  I’ll try to keep it succinct.  (Y’all know I ramble, right?)

Yesterday, an acquaintance phoned me, after a mere 7 or 8 years, to tell me that a former boss was mentally “down”, and thought it would be oh-so-helpful if I reached out to offer reassurance and friendship to him.  The former boss that went entirely on the attack when I resigned from his company.  The former boss that tried desperately to ruin my reputation in the industry and the community.  The former boss that tied up my energy and most of my retirement income in a frivolous lawsuit that took 3 years to get thrown out.  Yes, THAT former boss is depressed and is in need of his old friends to rally around him, and I should learn how to let go of past transgressions.

While that phone call was the proverbial straw, the advice that I should learn to “let go” was like a blow torch to dynamite.  I have been on what my grandmother would have called “a bender” ever since…eating and crying and hating people in general, and some people in particular.  I have been raging against an onslaught of dishonesty, disrespect, being taken for granted, and injustices to people around me.  Thankfully, I only rage in my head so as not to disturb others.

I call that “Catholic raging”. 

I sit and spew mental fire and cry and eat things I shouldn’t and make my dogs look at me funny and my husband get that exasperated face and say “What is WRONG with you?”  I am raging and loathing and sobbing as I type this.  If I didn’t need my hands for the keyboard, I’d be eating, too.  It’s not a pretty scene.

Because sometimes I get tired of doing the right thing.  I get tired of taking the high road.  I get tired of forgiving.  I get tired of being responsible.  I get tired of accepting bad behavior.  I want to throw my hands up and be helpless and let someone clean up my messes.  I want to get even and toss out paybacks like penny candy at a Christmas Parade.  I want to walk away silently whilst flipping the bird.  I want to be the sort of selfish badass that just leaves it all behind.

So, that’s where I found myself.  It’s a ridiculous, non-productive, unhealthy place.  Time to adjust sails and get my perspective back.

This is where the real point of this post starts, so if you’ve hung in there with me thus far, thank you.

I decided to focus on vacation, which is only 59 days away.  There is still so much to do:  menu planning, t-shirt making, beach mat blinging…it’s like a full time job, except I WANT to do it and I DON’T get paid, which I guess makes it the opposite of most full time jobs.  Whatever.

Steve, in his practical wisdom, and knowing that I am not in the best place right now, innocently suggested that maybe this isn’t the right year for the beach vacation.  Maybe we should put it off a year.  Go to St. Louis instead.  Something more low key.  Which made me cry harder, but at the same time gave me that much needed perspective.

When I was growing up, we took one trip:  The Great Anderson Family Vacation of 1969.  7 people in a Chevy Malibu.  My parents, my two sisters, one brother, and our parish priest.  Why did the priest go?  I’m not sure, but I think it had something to do with the fact that he was the one that owned the Malibu.  The Andersons didn’t have anything fancy like a car in 1969, ya know.  The priest may have also paid for the vacation, but I don’t know that for sure.  It still wasn’t a complete family vacation; one brother was God-knows-where with the Navy, and the other was on tour in Vietnam.

I have so many memories of that trip, and it is still the source of endless laughter at family gatherings.  Watching my Dad convince a deer to eat from his hand in Estes Park.  My sisters’ swimsuits, made by my mother, literally dissolving in the Great Salt Lake.  Freezing on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco because we Midwesterners thought all of California was 80 degrees all the time.  Trying mint jelly on a lamb chop, and gagging on it.  Being besieged by window washers as we drove into Mexico from Texas.  A horse trying to roll over on my Mom during a trail ride.  My Dad digging through the trunk every morning to find the bottle of Karo syrup if I wanted pancakes, because I didn’t like anything else on them.  My Mom with a death grip on the back of my shirt at the Grand Canyon, because she didn’t want me to fall in.  To this day, my only memory of the Grand Canyon is what the backs of other people’s legs looked like.

It was glorious and awful and funny and hot and crowded. It was The Great Anderson Family Vacation, and it was the only one we ever had.

Fast forward 4 years.  Not exactly a vacation, but we were going to go to Six Flags, which had opened in St. Louis a year or two before.  It was a big deal to me, because I’d never been to an amusement park.  I had been to school picnics at St. Mary Magdalen and some other surrounding parishes, and the concept of something as grand as Six Flags just blew my mind.  I mean, what could be better than the Scrambler and the Round Up?  My Dad was taking his week’s vacation, and while it was sure to be full of house projects, like every one of his vacations was, we were going to go to Six Flags.

But we didn’t.  The day before Six Flags, on my Dad’s last day of work before vacation, he suffered a massive coronary while in mid-sentence on a loading dock.  Lights out.  It was over, and there would never be another vacation, or baseball game, or fish fry, or house project.

My sister and her new husband took me to Six Flags later that summer.  It was awesome.  Really.  But I will always remember that my Dad never made it to that park.

The beach can’t wait until next year, because next year isn’t promised.  THIS year isn’t promised.  A lot can happen in 59 days.

The good stuff should never be pushed aside while we wallow in the inevitable bad crap that happens in life.  That’s backwards.

I can’t walk away from my world whilst flipping the bird.  That’s not who I am.

I can’t throw my hands up and let my world crumble around me.  That would make me ashamed of myself.

I can’t go on the attack or retaliate against people who fully deserve retaliation.  That goes against the laws of Karma, and in case I didn’t mention it, I pretty much try to hold true to that belief system.

I’m going to stop crying, stop binging on carbohydrates, and stop being angry at everything that breathes.  I am going to work on beach bags and t-shirts and cruise Groupon hoping for a deal on hot air balloon rides.

I am not calling the former boss.  I’m a believer in doing the right thing, but I’m not a martyr.