I do this a lot. Food is primary and is my drug of choice. Tonight I met a master alter-er. Is that a word? It is now.
One of the things that I have been trying to be constant with is the domestic violence support group that I began attending when I was living in the shelter. They make you set goals there, which makes sense because it is not a shelter that offers programs, it is a Program that just happens to have a shelter attached to it.
So, there was a schedule of stuff and you had to choose three things during each week. They ranged from one-on-one therapy, something you have to be insane to not take full advantage of such a opportunity, especially since it is free, and all the way to Saturday Night Movie Night, complete with candy and popcorn.
I chose the therapy and a couple of support groups. I took a stab at art therapy, but it was beyond lame and the woman running it was more interested in the stories of the women than any kind of therapy. When she was not prying, she was condescending. A sweet, middle-aged woman, simply doing her best to provide enrichment and self-discovery to the poor, pathetic, lower-class abused women. Even I could have done better, and that is not all braggy or anything, given that I was pretty much of a mess myself. But, she was a bigger mess. That is not being judgmental, just more brutally honest than I usually am. O.K., I am being judgmental out my ass. The sessions were painful. Sue me.
Months and months and months ago, when I quit everything except for my volunteer gigs, I did so because I was at a point where it was necessary to dig really deep and really intentionally in order to continue to make some kind of forward movement. A couple of painful sessions convinced me that I should really, really do what I do best. Quit. Run. Go to ground and hide, hide, hide.
So, I did that for two months. It did not help. I still needed to do the work. One week I decided to get out of the house and met a friend for coffee near the location where I had been receiving therapy. My intention was to go there after visiting with my friend and try to make an appointment. When I walked in, the first person I saw was my old therapist and I asked if it was possible to come back. We made the appointment right then and the only session I have missed since then is the one where I had a panic attack and had to leave. Quit. Run. Hide.
Just a temporary misstep.
So, anyway, I went to the support group tonight. The schedule got mixed up somehow and the person who wanted help with her résumé was not given her sheet until just before the support group began. We are going to try to get together on Thursday or Friday so that she does not have to wait until next week.
So, there we are, all together in group, settling in, doing the beginning stuff, reading the night's meditation thing and as we begin to discuss it and another woman arrives.
It has to be said. She was high. Really high. The shelter is housed in an old Victorian (this city is chock full of those things) and has those high ceilings. This woman was practically ass over teakettle up there.
Now, all of us have movement issues. At least those of us with PTSD. Chronic, small and vigorous movement is one of the ways that our bodies try to deal with and release stress. Being in a DV support group is stressful. All kinds of things can come out, stimulated or triggered by what someone else might say, even something innocuous. It happens all the time, so we wiggle and jiggle our feet, twitch, crumple or fold or tear paper, although it has been a very long time since I have seen a paper-tear-er.
It was painful to watch her, hear her speak. She was all over the place. The things she shared broke my heart into even littler pieces than it is most days. She was outrageous and funny and heartbreaking and I think she was able to recognize that she was all that and more, because she started to perform. I have seem that many times. I often wonder if I ever did it, but I have, perhaps mercifully, no memory of doing that.
There are currently two women in the group who have had family members, both mothers by the way although that is not essential here, gain legal custody of their children. It was their lifestyles, of which abusive relationships were only a part. Drugs of all kinds were taken by nearly all involved, them, their spouses, friends. All in all, not a good environment for anyone, especially children.
Both of these women are bitter, and who can blame them. And, I can say this with confidence, because each of them told of how they asked family and/or friends for help with their addictions and/or their situations, and no one helped them. That refusal to help or become involved is something that I have experienced, and it is my guess that most of the women in that room, most of the women (and men, too) in abusive relationships have asked for help. Like me, the response was probably sympathy, a vague promise to think of something to help, followed by a short and terse conversation/meeting in which the woman was told some version of "...it's not my/our business, I/we just can't get involved..."
I think, of all the sad and heartbreaking things that have been shared by women in these groups, that the lack of asked-for-help and the loss of children to those who refused to help and then took covert measures to gain custody of the woman's children is the rotten icing on the entire experience for women (and men, too) seeking help. Heinous. Disgusting. Disloyal. It is a betrayal of the highest order. Beyond the pale.
Now, I am not suggesting that the changing of legal custody is never a good thing. In most situations where this happens, it is the best solution to what are mostly unsolvable life issues and just plain crappy and irresponsible choices of the people who lose custody of their children. In most cases, the custody of a close relative is preferable to allowing children to flow into the public system. It is often safer and certainly less stressful for the children.
But, these two women have a valid point, betrayal-wise. They were brutally honest about how they were not taking care of their children and that absolutely no good could have come from any of those kids staying in their original home environment.
The betrayal comes from the feelings of shock they experienced, and that is in the realm of appropriate behavior, on both sides. Those children should not have been allowed to stay in their homes with all of that mess. These women agree. No equivocation at all. They understand that their children are better off without them, at least for now, at least until they get their lives back together.
But, the core of this is that along with the drugs and everything else, these women were abused. I am not quantifying how that or how much of it was or was not a factor in all of the rest. The fact is that they are in this shelter because their lives, their physical lives depend on being somewhere they will not be beaten, threatened, demeaned or killed. Simple as that.
Despite all of the antics the the late-arriving-woman, she said something that struck me like a physical blow. It sucked the air out of the room.
She said, "Yeah, they won't help you, but they will help themselves to your children."