Fast forward to the present; over the past two years an onslaught of tragedy and trauma consumed my life. My beloved daughter, my only daughter, a fourteen-year-old freshman in high school was abducted and raped by two sick men who remain at large. Then, mysteriously my sweet, dopey dog, not much more than a puppy came down with an ailment that wouldn’t allow him to eat; which ended up being diagnosed as stage four lymphoma (cancer)—he died at half his body weight whimpering in pain each day a month or so later. A few years back my father died in a very painful way (double pneumonia, lung cancer and emphysema)—painful for him and for me, his loving daughter, since I was the one that had to okay his removal from life support, in essence killing the one who gave me life. To exasperate things further I came within a hair of losing my marriage—facing the dreaded D word—this in large part a reaction to my soul being pulled and pushed apart by trauma. A voice screamed inside me, “Hey, but you’re supposed to be a healer—fix this!”
In the face of tragedy, trauma, mourning, and grief I began to examine my life. Who was the director—certainly not I. No, I was the one being controlled by unseen, undesirable forces. Throughout the years of psychological, emotional, spiritual, financial, physical, and indeed sexual domestic violence my partner claimed it was done out of love and caring for me. Whatever the reason all of it subversive or not, ate away at my psyche and my soul, removing one chunk after another until I felt too weak to carry on. I struggled to break free but alas there was still love, longing and hope—the thing that keeps many of us women tied to such unthinkable situations—the reason there are many chapters and articles entitled “Why She Stays.”
In reaction to the traumas, which were felt by us as a couple the controlling behaviors continually increased. He went for serious help. Still, I was a prisoner to my beliefs, to my hopes, to what I believed was supposed to be. With depression licking its thick black tongue over me, even my art, writing, healing, and gardening as outlets dwindled in their healing powers. I cut off my friends more out of pride than anything else. My ancestral altar grew dusty.
Nine years after the first time I felt the malaise, I finally went in for real help—this time earnestly ready to show and tell of my deep interior wounds. I found that quickly a rag tag group of strangers collected from around the “second city” became my sisters, some professionals yet survivors, in the position to lead us but many simply survivors just like me from all walks of life (and I do mean from Millionaire’s Wife to Mom’s mandated by the state to be present), willing and ready to help me mount the most important battle of my life—a modern day battle for my own territory, boundaries, the freedom to cherish my own form of spirituality, my own friends, hobbies and interests even if they didn’t seem to offer financial payoff—in essence I was mounting the fight for my authentic life.
Gathering ‘round the Cairn
Survivors helped so much, telling their heart rendering, poignant stories, in fact listening was so painful that sometimes I wanted to run for the door, or swoop someone up in my arms to offer comfort or buy something for someone, volunteer … do a million other things but instead I sat patiently, Velcroed to my seat, really listening, sucking in the sorrow, progress, anguish and triumphs like air. I internalized the stories of their experiences and one thing stuck in my mind no matter how different the story—we have to fight, to survive and to recover.
I mount the horse in my armor knowing what was done to my people on those slave ships. How they were treated like chattel but how today we can still sing Negro Spirituals and laugh all the way from the depths of our soul. I charge ahead, thinking how much worse things could be—of all the priestesses, shaman and sorcerers who were gathered up and tortured, burned or drowned because of what they knew—because of what they could do—heal and see. I visualize the fear in the child’s eye, holding her Mama’s skirt, walking the Trail of Tears and I know that like her I have to go on. I have to tell these stories to my children and to you so that you too will reach into your vessels find your stories and tell—together we trudge forward toward recovery.
Marching with Artemis
I set up a cairn in the center of my small urban garden. Together I walk spiritually ‘round the cairn of stones together with those in recovery from domestic violence in any and all of its forms. We may look haggard yet like Artemis’ bow we are unyielding and devoted to meeting our collective mark. We circle ‘round seeking freedom from the many demons that have taken on human form; some even dare to take up residence in our homes, in our beds, no less—we all want freedom from the demons who shackle our psyche or defile our soul through thoughts words or deeds.
Along the way I found even for a peace monger like myself, there is wisdom to the traditional combat tactics of warrior goddesses of the past particularly the one who walks with me, Artemis. For one, there is great power in numbers needed to form of army. There is also strength gained from seeking and maintaining relationships with allies. There is great power in survivors sharing their stories and rallying around the related belief that we deserve to be treated better. Taking a cue from Artemis for example, we see it is important to have the right tools. In our case those tools include education, training and a workable safety plan.
Domestic Violence Calls for Ancient and Modern Warfare
Using a warrior mind we build alliances and maybe even stand shoulder to shoulder, walking the cairn as a small army. Troops reaching out, being together with others proving we are both strong and lovable. We do not have to live spiritually alone. Isolation is a poisoned arrow of the abuser that needs to be deftly removed by our most capable healers. This counter-attack arrow appears often when fighting domestic battles.
What are these wars you may ask? They are battles for a better position in society, battles against inequality, racism and sexism; battles for an office space with a little privacy, the battle for the one who will love you “till death do you part” to act as a partner in your joy; battles for what you will have for dinner or even for a roof over your head.
Through my newly discovered troop of women I learned how in-masse we create a human shield. In numbers we are strong as one we are weak; together we are can build a fortress that continuously strengthens; powerfully built like a cairn—one stone at a time. I’m learning the importance of shields—that ancient tool of cross-cultural myth, legend and our ancestors; shields are needed today more than ever. Have and make friends, cultivate allies yet vigilantly defend your personal space using every shield you’ve got. Group leaders and counselors help us shield our psyches and our selves but you may find yourself similar to me realizing that this is only the beginning.
Part 1| Part 2 | Part 3